I went on a dog walk this morning. For a change, we went to a nature reserve further west. There’s a stream that runs along the bottom of the valley there, dammed in places with branches and sticks and stuff, gnarly old trees with exposed roots along the bank, unexpected encampments in thickets of holly, shrines to dead pets, and – well – generally speaking, if you can’t get a picture there, you can’t get a picture anywhere.
It was whilst I was exploring the woods that I started to think what I might call them. I mean – they’ve got a name already, of course. Blunts Wood, no doubt because a while ago they were owned by someone called Blunt. Unless they were making some more general comment about the place. According to Webster’s, blunt means having an edge or point that is not sharp; being abrupt in speech or manner; straight to the point; slow or deficient in feeling; insensitive or obtuse – none of which particularly comes to mind when I’m watching Lola sprint ahead through the trees.
But whether it’s Blunt the family or Blunt the obtuse, (which sounds like an ancient and not particularly likeable ancestor), I think there might be better names out there.
Many of the trees have fallen over, lost to soil erosion, and the action of the stream that obviously floods quite regularly. And I think it’s that, along with the fantastically contorted root patterns, the thick ivy that flourishes in these dank conditions, the mud and the low light, that combine to give the place a spooky atmosphere, mossy and kind of magical. In fact, today it looks less like a nature reserve and more like a witch’s garden, exactly the secret and sacred place a tree might want to sneak off to when it felt a stirring in its sap. Maybe if I camped out long enough over there I’d see them by moonlight, slithering and rustling across the fields, then collapsing by the stream and throwing their roots into the water.
So thinking about all this, I thought I might call it the Wood of the Wayward Oak. Although there are other trees there, too, so that’s not fair. Maybe Forest of the Beguiled. Although that sounds like the trees were tempted there under false pretences – which may be the case, I don’t know. Lola certainly seems a little lost.
It’s a work in progress.
I have to admit, though – it was easier naming Broken Tree hill. The iconography was so much clearer: a hill with three pines on top – one of them fallen down, one of them standing up (but dead), one of them growing normally. Broken Tree hill seemed to fit straight away.
No doubt it’s already got a name. I mean, I know for a fact the land is owned by an actual farmer. He uses it as stand-by pasture for his cows in the summer, or a place to shift them over to safety when they shoot fireworks in the air in the grounds of the manor house on Bonfire Night. So I’m pretty sure it’ll already be officially catalogued in an office drawer somewhere: Farmer Whatever’s field.
It’s probably worth pointing out, though, that whether it’s Farmer Whatever’s field or Broken Tree hill, neither of them are actually true. Neither of them have anything to do with the thing itself.
For example, my parents christened me James. If you google ‘James’ you’ll find it comes from the Hebrew name Jacob, meaning supplanter or one who follows. Which is an odd couple of descriptions, by the way, because if you look up the definition of supplant in Webster’s, you get to supersede (another) especially by force or treachery. So I’d definitely be feeling anxious if the James of the First definition was doing some following of the Second.
To be fair, I think my parents called me James not because they thought I looked untrustworthy (or lost), it was more because they knew someone called James they liked, and it seemed to fit. (They gave me a middle name, too: Edward. Which together with James starts to look a little delusional, as if they had some supplanting ambitions of their own).
Anyway, truth is, I’m neither a James nor an Edward. In the same way that the parenchyma cells of the living pine, busily trying to stop it going the same way as its neighbours, would do just as good a job without a name at all, in the same way that the osteocytes maintaining my upright position at this desk couldn’t give a greater or lesser trochanter if the whole outfit ending up being called Derek. I’m a composite, an entity, a nameless thing – especially on days like today, when I’m patently using any old excuse to avoid working on the book.
So – to sum up. It’s not Broken Tree hill, it’s not The Wood of the Wayward Oak, I’m not Jim, and who the hell are you?