Nov 22 Why I love working in a wood – by Nick Lear By Tracy

How do you explain why you like golf or running marathons? You can’t. Not to someone who doesn’t get it. But working in a wood – now that’s a different matter altogether. As I filled the wheelbarrow this morning, I began to think of all the reasons I love it so.

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‘Hurrah! Blister my kidneys! It is a frost – the dahlias are dead!’ John Jorrocks, master of the Handley Cross hounds, got so excited because the dahlias had died, he danced a jig in Regents Park. His relations concluded he had gone mad and got him committed to a lunatic asylum. To Jorrocks, the first frost meant the start of the hunting season. To me, the onset of winter is the season to be merrily getting out in the wood and wielding a chainsaw – the coppicing season, in fact. That gets me dancing a jig, or it would if it were not for my distinctly John Sergeant-like lack of ability in the jig-dancing department.

Working this morning, musing as I worked, I thought of three reasons why it’s so good to get out with my saws.

  • First it’s my gym. I get thoroughly sweaty and come back after a couple of hours feeling I have had a good work out. And not only is the gym vastly more convivial a place than the conventional ones, but it’s free. So I’ve saved £346.50 a year, that’s the cost of an annual oldie’s subscription to the Leisure Centre in Lewes.
  • Second I am making something, namely cordwood which will eventually become firewood. A treadmill in Lewes doesn’t even make electricity, as far as I know. What a waste.
  • Third is the joy of being able to exercise a skill. I have been using chainsaws for forty years but only recently have I really learned how to sharpen them properly and discovered the brake and all that safety stuff. It gives me a glow of satisfaction when the saw starts at once and cuts beautifully because I have the skill to make it so. Well some of the skill some of the time, at least. And there are few moments so satisfactory as when a tall old hornbeam comes crashing down exactly between the holly bush and the oak, just as I intended.
  • Fourth, it gets me out among the wonders of nature, which warms my heart.
  • Fifth the process of coppicing has transformed a dark hornbeam wood into a home for multitudes of plants and flowers and insects and birds. Four species of warbler (Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Garden warbler and Willow warbler) nested last year in one cant of about two acres coppiced four years ago, not to mention other species such as robin, wren, dunnock, woodpigeon and so on.. The same area is a favourite with woodcock which have just started to appear as I write (mid-November). It’s all because of coppicing.
  • Sixth there is something wholly satisfactory about being destructive without any guilt because it’s constructive too.
  • Seventh the resulting logs are sold locally on a bag-your-own basis. We advertise only in the village so the fuel doesn’t chalk up many road-miles before it is merrily burning in local grates. How sustainable is that?

My three reasons seem to have become seven. I’d better stop before I think of any more reasons why to me it is such a joy to be in the woods.

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