Essays

Forty Days

August 1, 2013

When I was a child, I wanted to be a hermit. I can remember in particular a strange background desire I had for some years to live alone in a pine forest. Why a pine forest? I have no real idea. I have never spent much time at all in a real pine forest (as opposed to the serried ranks of plantation pines which layer the hills of the north of England.) But that was where I wanted to be. I could imagine myself dwelling in the dark, dank heart of a pinewood. Life there, I knew, would be more intense, more magical, than life at home.

For a time, as a romantic and imaginative child, I entertained the idea that my desire to be surrounded by pines was due to my having been a Viking in a previous life. I was fascinated by the Vikings: their gods and their runes and the dark magic in their cold fjord culture. Looking back now, I suspect that the root cause was more likely to be an overdose of Tolkien, followed later by Stephen Donaldson and Ursula Le Guin. There were a lot of wizards in my childhood.

Dark Ecology

January 17, 2013

The handle, which varies in length according to the height of its user, and in some cases is made by that user to his or her specifications, is like most of the other parts of the tool in that it has a name and thus a character of its own. I call it the snath, as do most of us in this country, though variations include the snathe, the snaithe, the snead and the sned. Onto the snath are attached two hand grips, adjusted for the height of the user. On the bottom of the snath is a small hole, a rubberised protector and a metal D-ring with two hex sockets. Into this little assemblage slides the tang of the blade.

This thin crescent of steel is the fulcrum of the whole tool. From the genus blade fans out a number of ever-evolving species, each seeking out and colonising new niches. My collection includes a number of grass blades of varying styles &emdash; a Luxor, a Profisense, an Austrian and a new, elegant Concari Felice blade that I’ve not even tried yet &emdash; whose lengths vary between 60 and 85 centimetres. I also have a couple of ditch blades (which despite the name are not used for mowing ditches particularly, but are all-purpose cutting tools which can manage anything from fine grass to tousled brambles) and a bush blade, which is as thick as a billhook and can take down small trees. These are the big mammals you can see and hear. Beneath and around them scuttle any number of harder-to-spot competitors for the summer grass, all finding their place in the ecosystem of the tool.

Farewell to the Tree of the World

November 8, 2012

The coming loss of the ash tree is a mythological blow

The Old Yoke

November 1, 2012

What is the Green Man: an old nature spirit, or a symbol of resistance to the Norman oppression of the English?

Here come the neo-greens

August 1, 2012

As systems and assumptions collapse, desperate ideas have a better chance of becoming popular.

Burns and Barnes: a tale of two Poets

January 25, 2012

The differing fates of two dialect poets may tell us something about the differing priorities of England and Scotland.

This collapse is a ‘crisis of Bigness’

September 25, 2011

The crisis currently playing out on the world stage is a crisis of growth. Not, as we are regularly told, a crisis caused by too little growth, but by too much of it

Upon the Mathematics of the Falling Away

July 9, 2011

Suicide is everywhere in this culture, under every stone, and once you come to be a part of that great, unspeaking clan of people who have been touched by it, you see this.

The sole business of poetry

May 5, 2011

Can poetry save the Earth? No. But it is, perhaps, able to show us the Earth – and our relationship to it – in a way we are not used to seeing it.

The Quants and the Poets

April 21, 2011 Or: how the greens torpedoed themselves with numbers, how politics is a front for archetypal emotions, and how we'd all be better off admitting it.
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