Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Wednesday Whimsy: Woods, spirit and the god of England

England is a land of woods. Or perhaps a land of once-woods – where trees once were.
I like to think that, with the support of the Woodland Trust, The Tree Register and various local tree trusts, our land will once again be a place of woods. I recall visiting the Tamar Valley and, looking out across its woods, being told that in the heyday of arsenic mining just 100 years before there were no trees at all in that view.

England isn’t a land of forest or jungle – our woods are not wilderness, are not impenetrable. Our woods are not unkempt. Our woods are not places to fear. Men work in our woods – keeping them clear and growing, logging, copsing and cropping the trees. Woods shelter deer, badgers, martens and a host of birds. Woods provide jobs and incomes, pleasure, food and beauty. They sing to us and contain our story.

But there is still more. Woods – and wood – sit right in the soul of the Englishman. Not just Heart of Oak – a celebration more of ships than trees – but the spirit of the trees still moves us perhaps more than that of the moors or of the fields. Above all else, the Green Man is the god of England. Other places have lost their secret foliate face – it still peeps out from carvings in stone but no longer lives. Here in England the Green Man still lives, laughs and has space to wander.

The Green Man isn’t someone to fear but, as Mike Harding wrote, his roots go back a long way and his manifestations are many:

"His roots may go back to the shadow hunters who painted the caves of Lascaux and Altimira and may climb through history, in one of his manifestations through Robin Hood and the Morris Dances of Old England to be chiselled in wood and stone even to this day by men and women who no longer know his story but sense that something old and strong and tremendously important lies behind his leafy mask.
One of the earliest English epic poems Gawain and The Green Knight may refer to yet another manifestation of the Green Man as the God that dies and is reborn. He is the Green Man, Jack in the Green, the Old Man of the Woods, Green George and many other things to many other men but one common theme runs through all the disparate images and myths, death and rebirth and the Green that is all life."

Above all else, we know that if we leave things, the trees return. That those trees will break stone, turnover paving and cover over the vain constructions of man. As Ian Anderson put it:

Jack, do you never sleep ---does the green still run deep in your heart?
Or will these changing times,
motorways, powerlines,
keep us apart?
Well, I don't think so ---I saw some grass growing through the pavements today.

And the trees will follow!


English Conservatives said...

A "leah" is a woodland clearing (or glade), now contracted to "ley" and found at the end of many an English place.

Anonymous said...

Is there anything as majestic as a tall mature beech tree? An arboral cathedral resplendant in its greenery.