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  • Writer's pictureCrone

A woodpecker's hole

Updated: Dec 13, 2021

I put my finger in a woodpecker’s hole

And the woodpecker said

God bless my soul!

Take it out

Take it out,

Take it out,

Extract it!

At least, I think that’s how it goes. One of those songs that’s on the edge of obscene. Not so bad as the limericks about the admiral’s daughter. Anyway.


Southwick Wood is my favourite site so far. There’s something about the feel of the place. Something more wild, perhaps, less constrained.

My first task was to cut down a stand of hazels to encourage coppice growth next year. There were a lot of little trees, twenty or so feet tall, but with narrow trunks, easy to saw through. I saved all the top twiggy bits to brash up the stumps afterwards to protect the new growth from deer. Apparently, a herd of thousands lives in the area. Ian showed us last year’s growth – and where the brashing was just a foot or so, the saplings couldn’t grow enough to resist the deer. It needed to be deep.

In the photo you can sort of make out the stumps and the pile of timber behind. The brash is behind me.

Those frothy bits – I had a vast pile of them – they are so light and so eager to be vertical. They want to be up climbing into the air, not earthbound. You feel it as you lift and carry them. So light, so incredibly light, and yet this springy insistence on seeking the sky.

After lunch we walked around the site to clear from the tracks the chain-sawed corpses of trees that had fallen in the storm a few weeks ago. Inside the ashes, the heartwood was spongy and strange – evidence of their sickness. It’s light, soft and too porous.

Invertebrates, or moths, had made nests inside – as in this image.

They hardly had to bore to work into it. The black pulp in which larvae would have grown, feels like sponge.

But, in amongst the sick elms and equally unhappy looking oaks, a stand of elm trees. One had fallen, but there was new growth on the remaining trunk and three young trees and one larger tree surrounded it. Still living. Survivors of a former genocide.

Back in the seventies, when the elms were dying, the foresters felled loads of them. Now it seems they wished they’d left them, to see if some would battle through, as these survivors did. Instead, they planted cherries. Southwick has an area of cherry plantation in lines. I put my ear to the trunk of one – I’d read you could hear the water moving up the trunk. And I did. A gurgle like my stomach at its hungriest. Then some gentle flowing sounds. A maple offered nothing and I wondered if I’d imagined the cherry-noise of if cherries, with their florid displays and brilliant fruit, are the least reserved of the trees.

Apparently, a standing dead tree can support as much life as live one. We saw one trunk, 4o feet high, maybe, with fungi growing up it like an external spiral staircase. Bats live in cracks and holes. Insects all through it. And whatever birds and mammals.

I feel like the woods are alive. Trying to be alive against the odds. Trying to face the Anthropocene future, vertical, climbing, seeking the sky’s promise while anchored to the giving earth.

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Dec 12, 2021


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