GOODMAN'S WOOD

by Ken Jones
When the self retires
the ten thousand things advance
- Zen Master Dogen

Coed Gwrda. Goodman's Wood. But don't be deceived by the name. Gwrda was often what the gwerin called the Evil One, to propitiate him. I've noticed that the sheep don't drift in, even in foul weather. Two hundred years ago there was some lead mining here - a truly hellish, poisoning occupation.

Spoil heap stained red
spilt needles
of the crooked pine

This is very much its own place. At the gate a crowd of young birch lure you in, with their slender silver trunks, fluttering their little leaves in pale sunlight. Strong characters hang out inside. Mainly oak, with their thick, stubborn limbs. But plenty of barbed blackthorn lurking in the undergrowth. Most serviceable are the coppice hazel, with rings of saplings sprouting from the base of each parent. When the parent grows old I saw it out, leaving the youngsters to dance around the stump. Each then becomes a stump in turn, surrounding their rotting grandparent.
 
Higher up is a stand of larch whose company I always enjoy. And in the high pasture beyond, only the dead.

Commanding the hill
three dead trees
their wild gestures

Up there is a disordered presence felt so strongly it's as if I'd been chewing magic mushrooms.

The Stare
three blackened stumps
seen nobody for weeks

Apart from the coppicing I usually only fell trees as old and stringy as myself. These assassinations are a sad business, and sometimes worse.

Chainsaw to a dying birch
sprayed in my face
the blood red sap

The ripping saw exposes the white flesh of the initial wedge, cut out to determine the angle of fall. Then that gentle tremor of topmost twigs, the groan, and the awesome crashing chaos, limbs outstretched, crown in the mud. The chainsaw reminds me of the imperial Maxim gun. Slaughter should not be so casual. In the old days of felling axe and two-man saw the odds were more even. The forest wore out the woodman by his 'thirties. Nowadays, in our valley, you're not ready for the grave until you can no longer spin your starter lanyard.

Limbs twisted by arthritis
for him
no clear fell

The ash are already grey winter skeletons when others are still flaunting a few leaves. One with a lot of attitude stands alone in a clearing, challenging and enigmatic. Whenever I pass we eye one another up and down. This tree is younger than I'd usually fell, but we do need to liven up our stack with some top quality logs. As the old saw has it:

Ash wet or ash dry
For a queen to warm her slippers by !

Hands in pockets, I would stroll round the tree, trying to get some sense out of it. One afternoon, the forest floor dappled with sunlight and frost, I decide to do the deed - now ! But I miscalculate the direction of fall. The tree remains upright, with my saw defiantly gripped in its jaws. It needs a friend's to free mine and bring down the tree. Even then it clings tenaciously to its neighbours. With a third man, in gathering darkness, we wrestle it to the ground.
 
I've left quite a prominent stump, to encourage some sprouting life. It stands among the ruins of the brash with a look of fresh-faced surprise. My wife, visiting the scene of the crime, exclaims: "Cover that face !"

Moonlit glade
the snow white stump
still bleeding resin

Gwerin - the Welsh countryfolk

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