Like many other people during lockdown we had the extravagant idea of buying a bit of woodland. Nothing came of it: we realised that we would feel awkward buying a piece of land as strangers, knowing nothing about it, or who used it and might resent us, so we didn’t do any more about it. I had bought Ruth Pavey’s A Wood of One’s Own as preliminary research, and it was definitely helpful in impressing on me the logistical complexity of owning land that you have to take care of, to which you might not live near.
But it was also an absolute joy to read, especially in those enclosed days when walks outside for more than a hour were against the law. I enjoyed the logistics more than anything: attending an auction, finding out the local history of the wood she had inadvertently bought, and how much was unknown and terribly vague.
Now I’ve read the sequel, Deeper into the Wood, which was published in 2021, and it is even better. I’m not sure why: perhaps it’s that she is writing over a shorter timespan of a year, with many tangential recollections, she’s already done much of the planting and pruning and installing, and has established herself. Now she can sit and reflect, and wonder what it’s all for, and what else there is to do.
Deeper into the Wood is deceptive: several times I was kept up far too late because it’s infectious come-hither meandering narrative quietly lured me into reading one more bit … one more bit, again and again. We sit in the wood as the seasons turn and observe that Ruth is very concerned about the local scarcity of rabbits, and strangely unconfident in how she manages her patch of sloping hillside. She definitely worries too much about children and nettles. She has a gardener who comes to do the heavy work when she’s in London and she has a neighbour who keeps her sheep in the wood for mowing purposes. She takes steps to find out more about her habitat: she commissions a plant survey and a moth survey (why on earth did this not occur to her before? maybe she doesn’t come from a family of naturalists.) I have to say, I’m quite interested in setting up a moth survey of our own, since we too have a slice of hillside that we live on: this is the kind of inspiration that Ruth produces. Her diffident tone, her uncertainty and apparent unconfidence make what she is doing with her wood seem very accessible. Not easy, not a walkover, not at all. But it’s something that any of us could do, if we had the initial capital to buy the land, and the time and energy to do the work and maintenance, for years and years.
It’s a lovely book. Very rereadable, and short enough not to require an index (though she did include the survey results as appendices). Her list of Further Reading is very useful indeed: I now have a book about damsons to look out for, since Ruth used it to write more about damsons than I’ve been able to find elsewhere. Highly recommended if you’re interested in woods and wild plants.