With my head ready to explode, Scanners style, I thought I'd give my brain a little rest and read something with pleasure in mind. Ben Law's Woodsman (Living In A Wood In The 21st Century), was the perfect tonic.
I've mentioned Ben Law in a previous post and, to me, he is a very inspiring character. He is probably most famous - outside of the Self-Sufficiency and Woodland realm (not the one populated by Elves) - for building his own Roundwood House on Grand Designs. But he has also written some fascinating books, based around his life in, and making a living from, the woods. A really interesting proposition for my plans.
With a visit to the library, and finding it in a completely different section than I expected, Ben's latest work (published in 2013) takes a more personal 'diary' style, than some other (more factual) books, I have read on the subject. That's not to say there isn't any information to be gleaned. I learned a lot about Coppicing and Pollarding, along with ways and tools to manage a Wood. But its done in a conversational and relaxed style, intertwined with Ben's feelings and insights about the place he calls home (Prickly Nut Wood).
In the book Ben describes the work he undertakes, the benefit it has on the surrounding environment and the virtues it bestows on his own 'being'...
"I clearly remember cutting my first cant of coppice. It had last been cut some 50 years earlier and had some larger-diameter stems, as well as areas of wind-blow and deadwood. There is a sense of history within the woods that feels like a tangible link when you cut coppice.
Coppice is the term used to describe the successional cutting of broadleaf woodland during the dormant winter period... Coppicing creates a cyclical habitat and unique ecosystem, and is one of the few patterns of symbiosis known in nature in which human beings form a crucial part of the relationship."
There is also a fascinating and rather positive chapter, towards the end; where Ben explores an (almost certain) near-future in which we have used up all the Oil. This chapter explores the changes, to everyday life, a post-oil-reliant society would have to adapt to, and how it could function. This really brings it home, in a unique way, that we face a time in which we will all have to change and adapt; probably within the next 30-50 years, if not sooner. With almost every aspect of our lives so completely reliant on one (finite and dwindling) resource, this will happen.
"Since the oil crisis, in Lodsworth we have been fortunate, as we had set up much of the infrastructure to deal with this moment. The localised power station, the vast orchards of fruit and nut trees we had planted and the established vegetable production to the north-east of the village put us in good shape..."
Enhancing this publication even further, Ben has also created some beautiful illustrations, that pepper the book and really help to visualise and illustrate the life he leads and loves. One of which was a drawing of some of the tools needed. He recommends that an essential hand-tool, for this kind of work, is a 'Bill Hook'.
After being convinced, by Ben, about how useful this tool is, I set about finding one. They can be bought new (but not from your local garden centre it seems) and are quite expensive. Ben's recommendation is to find an older one - being better made and easier to sharpen. After a rather fruitless search, my Brother-in-Law said he had some bits I could take, including a "machete-like thing, with a weird curved end". With all appendages crossed I went and collected the 'gifts'. Lo and behold - it was indeed a Bill Hook. Don't you just love it when the Universe listens - which she has been doing a lot recently...
Along with the woods, our land has other habitats to grow and explore but, ever since I was knee high to a tree stump, woodland has held a special fascination for me. Its these parts of the Croft that I will enjoy working on and being in, the most, I think. With plans to plant, grow and extend the woodland and hedgerows, Ben's knowledge and inspiration will really help; so I'd like to thank him for the work he has done, and is still doing, to spread the word about this ecological, sustainable and uplifting way to live.
So check out Ben's web site, his books and the Grand Designs episode(s) he has appeared in. I'm sure he'll help you see the wood for the trees, as he has done for me.
Ben's web site:
Ben's books on Amazon:
Ben's Grand Design "Revisited" on YouTube:
A new TV project, following a year at Prickly Nut Wood (still to be finished - lets hope soon!):
Red Pepper's views on the impending oil crisis: