We gathered under the instructions of John Esling Hedgery, to learn the gentle art of hazel hurdling, to have a meeting, and have the first of hopefully many, working days at Kaliwood – an exchange for hosting Kinda Forest School in the wood, a payback of the most generous kind.
Like plating, we learned how to twist and turn the flexible yet strong hazel sticks, freshly snedded by Elouise and Louise, around the posts that framed the ponds. Meanwhile, while we had our meeting, Mani, Louis’s son, perfected the gates of ash. Kym, focused and persistent, continued with the spreading of the clippings on our path to the pink parachute. The new load from Tim Perkins was from a Cyprus, and it scents the air of the wood as we walk passed the heap. A sweet pine smell, soapy, and exotic.
Our hurdling skills were tested almost immediately by the appropriately named Hazel, who found half her way through the freshly twisted hurdles.
It did not surprise me that John Esling, who I knew had taught in prisons, was a natural teacher for children and teachers alike. He soon had Mani making gates, as soon as he had Elouise on shedding, and Mel and I on hurdling. He is a nurturer, a finder of good in all manner of things and a listener. He shoots from a side field, and recalls Bob Hope jokes.
Somewhat ambitiously we arranged to fit in a meeting, along with learning hurdling and doing work in kaliwood. The meeting suffered and concluded with a need to have another meeting! We did however, agree to a few important steps: here’s a random selection To consolidate our weekly trees. Embrace death and soil and compost next Wednesday. To reach out our marketing. To embrace alternative education. Eloise is starting up a girl only afternoon here in the woods. Oh to be a girl again and have this opportunity, I thought.
We finally abandoned our meeting in favour of lunch, when first Julia (who I went to school with far too long ago) then Michael and his daughter Candy came, with wine and pasta and garlic bread. The sun arrived too, so we could eat outside, wrapped up, to feast on our combined gifts on the sturdy oak table, crafted by Graham and Paul, (whose ghosts of work are everywhere here. Julia decorated the table with lemons for her photograph!
Through a perceptive question of Johns I found out Candy was studying sculpture. Over tea and hazelnut coffee John relayed to us with news of the National Hedgelaying Competition in Cambridgwhire, to which he went yesterday. A brilliant place to people watch he concluded. All the various methods explored but none from Suffolk. Why not we asked? He did not know. They have found a Neolithic hedge laying in the Fens, so it must have been practiced here. A way of fencing for those with cattle and without stones, so it evolved, and different styles suited the various landscapes for example those on steep slopes, the Yorkshire with a plank at the top.
Our day was full of small moments. Candy’s enjoyment of the magic of the wood was touching to see. Her first time here, she drank it all in. Michael came with bottle of wine and a gift from Naomi a possey of parsley and rocket in foil.
‘I’m to instruct you to put them in water’, relayed Michael.
At the end of the day, I sat and watched the night fall, dark by 5, and felt a joy that at last the long evenings were here, when I could catch up on all the reading and writing I am so woefully behind on.
Paul came by for a glass of wine eager to hear how the day went, and glad to see in his torch light how much binding we’d got done.
‘Even while cooking in my van I find myself looking out from my window searching for the right width and length of hazel binders or stakes. My eye is totally in. It’s under my skin,’ he says. ‘I’ve learnt so much and so enjoyed this time working with John. But like a swallow he will leave the wood by the end of the week. For the first time in a long time, there will be wood warden in the wood. But the voices of children with prevail on Wednesdays,
Sharpening the Billhock
Above: John, Michael, Rachel, Mel, Eloise, Julia, Kym.
Below: Eloise clearing the gutters from the cabin.