O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew —
Hack and rack the growing green!
It’s hard to express how much I value trees though I’ve made one attempt already on this blog.
A hint of it perhaps comes across from my reaction to a recent walk in Haugh Wood. We changed our usual route and crossed the main road from the car park and walked to the pathway down the hill on the other side. We nearly didn’t proceed any further when we saw the warning sign that forestry work was in progress. We looked at the sign more carefully and it explained that we had to observe the various warnings against climbing on log piles or walking down paths where work was under way.
At first it was the usually tranquil experience of shadow, subtle greens and birdsong. We thought we had perhaps initially exaggerated the risks implied by the warning sign. As we descended more deeply into that part of the wood we noticed unusual tracks, as of some huge and heavy creature. Shortly after, we heard its roaring coming from somewhere to our left. We squinted valiantly to glimpse the source of the sound if we could. Finally we caught hints of the monster shining its red warning through the crowded undergrowth. With its massive motor muscles it was heaving the corpses of fallen pine into piles in a distant clearing. It did not take long for us to find, shortly after a bend in the path, evidence of its earlier work. I know this kind of work has to be done by the forestry commission if woodlands are to be managed properly though sometimes I feel it might be a touch overzealous. Richard Mabey expresses some words of caution in his recent book The Ash and the Beech. Writing of the activity after the Great Storm of 1987 he explains (page xv):
There was more damage caused to our woods by reckless clearing up after the storm, than by the wind itself, and living trees, and millions of seedlings and even the topsoil were often swept away by bulldozers, responding to political pressure and the public distaste for what appeared to be untidiness.
I also realise that corridors clear of trees have to be created to encourage the butterfly population.
However, these thoughts do little to ease the shock of such a massive pile of felled nobility – and, to be honest, the pine is not even my favourite tree. To have seen the trunks of oak or beech collected in similar numbers would have been almost intolerable. I am with Hopkins in this, though not quite as ready to die (Martin A Very Private Life – page 212):
When an ash tree was felled in the garden [at Stonyhurst], he “heard the sound and looking out and seeing it maimed there came at that moment a great pang and I wished to die and not see the inscapes of the world destroyed any more.”
This was not the only such pile as we walked further down the path. Amid all these disturbing stacks of felled pine there were flashes of beauty that would not otherwise have been visible to us, for example the clear view of the rings that marked the years of making, but they utterly failed to compensate for the cost in terms of trees felled to provide it.
I know my attitude is perhaps a bit extreme.
It’s not even consistent. I know books are dead trees but I still love to read them. In fact, this love of books contributes to my sense of gratitude to trees for what they provide us so generously. Even when I’m pegging out the washing and using one of our wooden pegs to secure a towel or shirt to the line, the same sense of wonder and indebtedness comes over me as I feel the texture of the wood and see the beauty of the grain in even such a small and common thing.