In a previous blog I mentioned Roger Deakin’s Wildwood…
He makes habitable the Tudor farmhouse he buys by keeping out the wind and rain but still allowing at least partial free passage for the animal and insect life who had been its previous owners. He sleeps in a caravan to listen to the rooks, he’s part of the moth-makers circle as they cluster round the bright lights that draw the moths in, he recounts the stories of willow-men and the basket-and bat-makers who work the willow.
His is a wonderful but all too little known counter-balance to all the damage we do to our world, to our climate, to our landscape. I wonder at times whether we could impose a back-to-nature requirement on all road-builders, all architects and town-planners, anyone who would spread bricks and especially concrete over the landscape without a thought for future generations who will be left with it when lifestyles and domiciles and transport have moved on. Where once we felled trees in Britain at least we now have open pasture and hedges and copses which hide and nurture their own wildlife. Where we put down concrete nothing can grow, save after decades in the slow-wearing interstices where weeds find a scraggy home.
It would be good to have a long-term damage assessment built into every new project, with a minimum threshold in terms of decay or decomposition, to remind ourselves of the duty we owe not just our children, but to many generations hence.
It seems that the Environment Agency haven’t a clue when it comes to considerations of this kind. Deakin quotes their indifference to the withy (willow) growing tradition in the Somerset Levels. Floods brought poisoned water which ruined the crop one year, and no-one from the agency visited, and now it seems they have plans to flood the withy beds permanently. When I’ve heard stories about the agency in other flood situations I’ve always put it down to shortages of staff, or local misunderstandings, but it seems that it goes deeper, to an institutional level.
On a lighter note, Deakin notes that cricket bat willow only grows really well in England, to the frustration of Australians who must import English willow wherewith to thrash, they hope, the Poms. Louis MacNeice writes of the drunkenness of things being various. Here we have the singular, the co-incidence of place and time to play which led to a game where the spring of willow and the resilience of cork and leather make for a game perfectly matched to human strength and capabilities. A more stolid bat would propel the ball much less far, and vibrate the hand, a softer bat and the ball would die before it left the square. Without willow where would we be, without the game that’s an antidote to all the frenetic activity which characterises most popular sports. With maybe the exception of snooker, but that’s about paralysis rather than relaxation of mind. But I digress.
20:20 cricket is another game altogether, although it still requires the magic of the willow wand, which however brandished remains something it seems modern materials can’t replicate. Long may it remain so.