Tuesday, December 06, 2005

the spirit of the material

A long long time ago in a publishing coolective far far away I published a book about my time at the Newbury Bypass protest.

My friend Jim was another of the protesters, and in the last couple of weeks I've been honoured to be one of the proof-readers for his newly finished memoir of the time he spent at Newbury, Stanworth Valley and Fairmile in the mid-90s.

It's a thoroughly absorbing, warm, insightful, intelligent, compelling book that balances the politics with the spiritual and philosophical drive behind the campaigns, the wider intent with the impact on the inner lives of those involved and his own personal story.

You can be sure I'll be plugging it here once its published, but in the meantime, here's an extract.

It may well be a good thing that more people don't live in the woods - the damage of human activities on such sensitive habitiats is not hard to imagine. And as more woodland is destroyed, or is degraded by nearby developments, the ones that remain become more and more precious for the species they support. But there's a lot to be said for experiencing life in such a delicate context and being made aware of the repercussions of our every action.

Before the arrival of farming, people would never have stayed in one place for so long anyway, so the problem of impoverishing an area like this would never have arisen. In England since then, nearly every square inch of land has been subject to human habitation at some point or another, and it's a testament of our ability to cohabit and the endurance of an underlying culture of respect that our countryside has survived with all the richness that it has. Which makes it all the more tragic that so much is now being denigrated and swept away by men who have no understanding of the fundamental connection that was still enjoyed by most poeple not more than two or three generations ago.

Many woods in Britain could actually do with a stronger human presence - in particular those needing coppicing, which apart from anything else helps preserve a species-rich series of habitiats. If traditionally managing indigenous woodland like this could be made commercially viable again, then it would actually help preserve the woods that are left - and give rise to the planting of more. For centuries there was a strong culture of people living in the woods in this way, using trees to make products that were a part of everyday life. Now everyone is surrounded by pieces of plastic and the woods that are left have largely gone quiet.

Our material surroundings define our world in a way that most of us can only begin to suspect. With a little more wood in our lives, and a greater respect for the spirit ingerent in natural, physical things, we might begin to shift the world back to something like balance. Our understanding defines the world we live in; the world we create is borne out by the world we have already created, or allowed to transpire, in our minds. Until we address our connection with the spirit of the material, and in doing so come to grasp that manufacturing a thing like polystyrene or plastic is an actual act of violence, then attempts at restoring environmental balance will be rootless, however goodwilled.

3 comments:

Claire said...

Can you let us at HH know about this when its published?
Cheers!

PMM said...

Hiya Merrick.

Me and my missus have been looking into buying a small woodland for a while, although we're too poor for it to be more than a pipedream. Such a place would be useful to us as a retreat, and properly managed could be a source of income.

I'm toying with the idea of getting a gang of HH'ers (The most coherent and well mannered online community I know of) together to spread the costs and share the benefits.

Any thoughts?

merrick said...

Having your woodland be a retreat means all kinds of hoo-hah with planning laws.

The wonderful people at Tinker's Bubble have been periodically hassled, for example.

Me, I'm far too daunted by the serious commitment of coppicing and general woodland management, though I do know folks who do it successfully.

I'm more of a day-tripper, doing tree planting with people like Treesponsibility and Trees For Life.