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{ 47 } 31. MAGIC IN THE THICKS This is the way: when weather is warm and soils sandy, then farming without water is hard. All around, irrigation guns jetted water into the sun low over fields of purple potato. There were many rainbows. These sandlings were shrugged off in the agricultural revolution as fit for nothing but sheepwalk and layabout rabbit, yet farming today looked fine. Nearby was the Thicks, an ancient woodland of mature oak and holly, and beyond to the north, one of the county’s famed singing pubs, the Green Man. Through fronds of bracken, deer and people had beaten frontier paths. Inside, the morning air was silent, the shadowed glade lanced by sun rays. Each old oak had bold bosses on fissured bark. Long ago, all were pollarded by feuding brothers arguing over the estate: so they say, each chopped out the other ’s leading branches. The oaks grand even then had since put out pollards ten to fifteen feet from the ground. Centuries passed, the grass grown taller, many now rotted, the heartwood dust. The girth of one was eighteen feet and must be four hundred years old, maybe older given the trauma. Some say the oyster monks of Butley Abbey were the plantsmen of the 1500s. It is good not to be sure, as for any place of myth and mystery. The oak drew the eye, but the smooth holly were exceptional. One was the tallest in the country at seventy feet. Girths of the largest exceeded six feet. There were Siamese trees, oak-holly trunks fused by years of co-growth. On bark were names, old graffiti carved by generations long gone who walked the deep wood for an escape from high-occupancy cottages, bedrooms lacking privacy. A heart with initials; another on a rowan. A woodland for wonder, perchance to “dream, and so dream all night without a stir,” wrote John Keats of oak. These heaths were warren country, where Normans imported conies from Spain and built long mounds with artificial burrows. At the height of production, rabbit trains rattled to London carrying a million animals yearly for meat and fur. All change: they ended being useful livestock and evolved to pests. Nearby were farmed oysters, raised on creek shore since the Anglo-Saxons, sent to distant markets too. JUNE { 48 }     The East Country There is more than meets the eye in these old woods: Druid ceremonies, the magic of mistletoe, strange goings-on, as they say here in the east. Great Ren­ dlesham Forest nearby, swathes matchstick-flattened by the 1987 hurricane, was site for alien landings one Boxing Day. Flashing lights in the forest, American airmen and Suffolk police writing revealing memoranda. Down the road at Orford was a captured merman; at Shingle Street its wartime incident. There were cunning men and women, both healers and magicians. Cunning Murrell was the last wizard of Essex, born in 1780, walking the region collecting plants for cures. He slept by day, walked at night, a basket of herbs hanging from a gingham umbrella. “Do you want high or low?” he asked: magic or material help. Depicted with golden staff and feet in grass and flowers in a stained glass window, Hildegard wrote of nature and choices over high and low treatment. Thus was uncertainty explained away, and healing helped. At garden dusk, two stag beetles whirred, clattering into birch and pencil elm as a bat slid silently in the warm air. They seemed early. The village is a hotspot, and they fly each summer, even though nationally rare. In deadwood, larvae grow for three years. More evidence that local choice in gardens and the wilds works. The idea of a contemplative economy is appealing. If we spent more time immersed in nature, attentive too to one another, then perhaps there would be less need for material consumption. The planet could be saved, yet the economy wrecked. High magic looks to be a good choice. 5 32. THE LOST SHORE Moths fly to a night light. In the summer sunshine, people are drawn to seaside sunlight. Along the coastal edge, You come to know places by the back door, To find secret dune and marsh, Shingle and cliff, Serene settled, Just beyond the reach of most visitors. Yet the seaside is new to culture. No one would have thought before two hundred years ago to sit on beach or swim in sea for pleasure. Houses up and down the coast faced inwards, fishermen and...


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MARC Record
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