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Wood and Garden: Notes and Thoughts, Practical and Critical, of a Working Amateur

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<SPAN name="Page_158" id="Page_158"></SPAN>[158]</div> <h2>CHAPTER XIII</h2> <h4>DECEMBER</h4> <blockquote><p>The woodman at work &mdash; Tree-cutting in frosty weather &mdash; Preparing sticks and stakes &mdash; Winter Jasmine &mdash; Ferns in the wood-walk &mdash; Winter colour of evergreen shrubs &mdash; Copse-cutting &mdash; Hoop-making &mdash; Tools used &mdash; Sizes of hoops &mdash; Men camping out &mdash; Thatching with hoop-chips &mdash; The old thatcher's bill.</p></blockquote> <p><br />It is good to watch a clever woodman and see how much he can do with his simple tools, and how easily one man alone can deal with heavy pieces of timber. An oak trunk, two feet or more thick, and weighing perhaps a ton, lies on the ground, the branches being already cut off. He has to cleave it into four, and to remove it to the side of a lane one hundred feet away. His tools are an axe and one iron wedge. The first step is the most difficult&mdash;to cut such a nick in the sawn surface of the butt of the trunk as will enable the wedge to stick in. He holds the wedge to the cut and hammers it gently with the back of the axe till it just holds, then he tries a moderate blow, and is quite prepared for what is almost sure to happen&mdash;the wedge springs out backwards; very likely it springs out for three or four trials, but at last the wedge bites and he can give it the dexterous, rightly-placed blows that <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_159" id="Page_159"></SPAN>[159]</span>slowly drive it in. Before the wedge is in half its length a creaking sound is heard; the fibres are beginning to tear, and a narrow rift shows on each side of the iron. A few more strokes and the sound of the rending fibres is louder and more continuous, with sudden cracking noises, that tell of the parting of larger bundles of fibres, that had held together till the tremendous rending power of the wedge at last burst them asunder. Now the man looks out a bit of strong branch about four inches thick, and with the tree-trunk as a block and the axe held short in one hand as a chopper, he makes a wooden wedge about twice the size of the iron one, and drives it into one of the openings at its side. For if you have only one iron wedge, and you drive it tight into your work, you can neither send it farther nor get it out, and you feel and look foolish. The wooden wedge driven in releases the iron one, which is sent in afresh against the side of the wedge of oak, the trunk meanwhile rending slowly apart with much grieving and complaining of the tearing fibres. As the rent opens the axe cuts across diagonal bundles of fibres that still hold tightly across the widening rift. And so the work goes on, the man unconsciously exercising his knowledge of his craft in placing and driving the wedges, the helpless wood groaning and creaking and finally falling apart as the last holding fibres are severed by the axe. Meanwhile the raw green wood gives off a delicious scent, sweet and sharp and refreshing, <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_160" id="Page_160"></SPAN>[160]</span>not unlike the smell of apples crushing in the cider-press.</p> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 264px;"> <ANTIMG src="images/158_a.jpg" width="264" height="400" alt="The Woodman." title="" /> <span class="caption">The Woodman.</span> </div> <p>The woodman has still to rend the two halves of the trunk, but the work is not so heavy and goes more quickly. Now he has to shift them to the side of the rough track that serves as a road through the wood. They are so heavy that two men could barely lift them, and he is alone. He could move them with a lever, that he could cut out of a straight young tree, a foot or so at a time at each end, but it is a slow and clumsy way; besides, the wood is too much encumbered with undergrowth. So he cuts two short pieces from a straight bit of branch four inches or five inches thick, levers one of his heavy pieces so that one end points to the roadway, prises up this end and kicks one of his short pieces under it close to the end, settling it at right angles with gentle kicks. The other short piece is arranged in the same way, a little way beyond the middle of the length of quartered trunk. Now, standing behind it, he can run the length easily along on the two rollers, till the one nearest him is left behind; this one is then put under the front end of the weight, and so on till the road is reached.</p> <p>Trees that stand where paths are to come, or that for any reason have to be removed, root and all, are not felled with axe or saw, but are grubbed down. The earth is dug away next to the tree, gradually exposing the roots; these are cut through <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_161" id="Page_161"></SPAN>[161]</span>with axe or mattock close to the butt, and again about eighteen inches away, so that by degrees a deep trench, eighteen inches wide, is excavated round the butt. A rope is fastened at the right distance up the trunk, when, if the tree does not hold by a very strong tap-root, a succession of steady pulls will bring it down; the weight of the top thus helping to prise the heavy butt out of the ground. We come upon many old stumps of Scotch fir, the remains of the original wood; they make capital firewood, though some burn rather too fiercely, being full of turpentine. Many are still quite sound, though it must be six-and-twenty years since they were felled. They are very hard to grub, with their thick taproots and far-reaching laterals, and still tougher to split up, their fibres are so much twisted, and the dark-red heart-wood has become hardened till it rings to a blow almost like metal. But some, whose roots have rotted, come up more easily, and with very little digging may be levered out of the ground with a long iron stone-bar, such as they use in the neighbouring quarries, putting the point of the bar under the "stam," and having a log of wood for a hard fulcrum. Or a stout young stem of oak or chestnut is used for a lever, passing a chain under the stump and over the middle of the bar and prising upwards with the lever. "Stam" is the word always used by the men for any stump of a tree left in the ground.</p> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 400px;"> <ANTIMG src="images/161top_a.jpg" width="400" height="299" alt="Grubbing a Tree-stump." title="" /> <span class="caption">Grubbing a Tree-stump.</span> </div> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 400px;"><SPAN name="image161" id="image161"></SPAN> <ANTIMG src="images/161bottom_a.jpg" width="400" height="300" alt="Felling and Grubbing Tools. (See page 150.)" title="" /> <span class="caption">Felling and Grubbing Tools. (See page <SPAN href="#Page_150">150</SPAN>.)</span> </div> <p><span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_162" id="Page_162"></SPAN>[162]</span>A spell of frosty days at the end of December puts a stop to all planting and ground work. Now we go into the copse and cut the trees that have been provisionally marked, judged, and condemned, with the object of leaving the remainder standing in graceful groups. The men wonder why I cut some of the trees that are best and straightest and have good tops, and leave those with leaning stems. Anything of seven inches or less diameter is felled with the axe, but thicker trees with the cross-cut saw. For these our most active fellow climbs up the tree with a rope, and makes it fast to the trunk a good way up, then two of them, kneeling, work the saw. When it has cut a third of the way through, the rope is pulled on the side opposite the cut to keep it open and let the saw work free. When still larger trees are sawn down this is done by driving in a wedge behind the saw, when the width of the saw-blade is rather more than buried in the tree. When the trunk is nearly sawn through, it wants care and judgment to see that the saw does not get pinched by the weight of the tree; the clumsy workman who fails to clear his saw gets laughed at, and probably damages his tool. Good straight trunks of oak and chestnut are put aside for special uses; the rest of the larger stuff is cut into cordwood lengths of four feet. The heaviest of these are split up into four pieces to make them easier to load and carry away, and eventually to saw up into firewood.</p> <p><span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_163" id="Page_163"></SPAN>[163]</span>The best of the birch tops are cut into pea-sticks, a clever, slanting cut with the hand-bill leaving them pointed and ready for use. Throughout the copse are "stools" of Spanish chestnut, cut about once in five years. From this we get good straight stakes for Dahlias and Hollyhocks, also beanpoles; while the rather straight-branched boughs are cut into branching sticks for Michaelmas Daisies, and special lengths are got ready for various kinds of plants&mdash;Chrysanthemums, Lilies, P�onies and so on. To provide all this in winter, when other work is slack or impossible, is an important matter in the economy of a garden, for all gardeners know how distressing and harassing it is to find themselves without the right sort of sticks or stakes in summer, and what a long job it then seems to have to look them up and cut them, of indifferent quality, out of dry faggots. By the plan of preparing all in winter no precious time is lost, and a tidy withe-bound bundle of the right sort is always at hand. The rest of the rough spray and small branching stuff is made up into faggots to be chopped up for fire-lighting; the country folk still use the old word "bavin" for faggots. The middle-sized branches&mdash;anything between two inches and six inches in diameter&mdash;are what the woodmen call "top and lop"; these are also cut into convenient lengths, and are stacked in the barn, to be cut into billets for next year's fires in any wet or frosty weather, when outdoor work is at a standstill.</p> <p><span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_164" id="Page_164"></SPAN>[164]</span>What a precious winter flower is the yellow Jasmine (<i>Jasminum nudiflorum</i>). Though hard frost spoils the flowers then expanded, as soon as milder days come the hosts of buds that are awaiting them burst into bloom. Its growth is so free and rapid that one has no scruple about cutting it freely; and great branching sprays, cut a yard or more long, arranged with branches of Alexandrian Laurel or other suitable foliage&mdash;such as Andromeda or Gaultheria&mdash;are beautiful as room decoration.</p> <p>Christmas Roses keep on flowering bravely, in spite of our light soil and frequent summer drought, both being unfavourable conditions; but bravest of all is the blue Algerian Iris (<i>Iris stylosa</i>), flowering freely as it does, at the foot of a west wall, in all open weather from November till April.</p> <p>In the rock-garden at the edge of the copse the creeping evergreen <i>Polygala cham�buxus</i> is quite at home in beds of peat among mossy boulders. Where it has the ground to itself, this neat little shrub makes close tufts only four inches or five inches high, its wiry branches being closely set with neat, dark-green, box-like leaves; though where it has to struggle for life among other low shrubs, as may often be seen in the Alps, the branches elongate, and will run bare for two feet or three feet to get the leafy end to the light. Even now it is thickly set with buds and has a few expanded flowers. This bit of rock-garden is mostly planted with dwarf shrubs&mdash;<i>Skimmia</i>, Bog-myrtle, <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_165" id="Page_165"></SPAN>[165]</span>Alpine Rhododendrons, <i>Gaultheria</i>, and <i>Andromeda</i>, with drifts of hardy ferns between, and only a few "soft" plants. But of these, two are now conspicuously noticeable for foliage&mdash;the hardy Cyclamens and the blue Himalayan Poppy (<i>Meconopsis Wallichi</i>). Every winter I notice how bravely the pale woolly foliage of this plant bears up against the early winter's frost and wet.</p> <p>The wood-walk, whose sloping banks are planted with hardy ferns in large groups, shows how many of our common kinds are good plants for the first half of the winter. Now, only a week before Christmas, the male fern is still in handsome green masses; <i>Blechnum</i> is still good, and common Polypody at its best. The noble fronds of the Dilated Shield-fern are still in fairly good order, and <i>Ceterach</i> in rocky chinks is in fullest beauty. Beyond, in large groups, are prosperous-looking tufts of the Wood-rush (<i>Luzula sylvatica</i>); then there is wood as far as one can see, here mostly of the silver-stemmed Birch and rich green Holly, with the woodland carpet of dusky low-toned bramble and quiet dead leaf and brilliant moss.</p> <p>By the middle of December many of the evergreen shrubs that thrive in peat are in full beauty of foliage. <i>Andromeda Catesb�i</i> is richly coloured with crimson clouds and splashes; Skimmias are at their best and freshest, their bright, light green, leathery foliage defying all rigours of temperature or weather. Pernettyas are clad in their strongest and deepest green leafage, <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_166" id="Page_166"></SPAN>[166]</span>and show a richness and depth of colour only surpassed by that of the yew hedges.</p> <p>Copse-cutting is one of the harvests of the year for labouring men, and all the more profitable that it can go on through frosty weather. A handy man can earn good wages at piece-work, and better still if he can cleave and shave hoops. Hoop-making is quite a large industry in these parts, employing many men from Michaelmas to March. They are barrel-hoops, made of straight poles of six years' growth. The wood used is Birch, Ash, Hazel and Spanish Chestnut. Hazel is the best, or as my friend in the business says, "Hazel, that's the master!" The growths of the copses are sold by auction in some near county town, as they stand, the buyer clearing them during the winter. They are cut every six years, and a good copse of Chestnut has been known to fetch �54 an acre.</p> <p>A good hoop-maker can earn from twenty to twenty-five shillings a week. He sets up his brake, while his mate, who will cleave the rods, cuts a post about three inches thick, and fixes it into the ground so that it stands about three feet high. To steady it he drives in another of rather curly shape by its side, so that the tops of the two are nearly even, but the foot of the curved spur is some nine inches away at the bottom, with its top pressing hard against the upright. To stiffen it still more he makes a long withe of a straight hazel rod, which he twists into a rope by holding the butt tightly under his left foot and <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_167" id="Page_167"></SPAN>[167]</span>twisting with both hands till the fibres are wrenched open and the withe is ready to spring back and wind upon itself. With this he binds his two posts together, so that they stand perfectly rigid. On this he cleaves the poles, beginning at the top. The tool is a small one-handed adze with a handle like a hammer. A rod is usually cleft in two, so that it is only shaved on one side; but sometimes a pole of Chestnut, a very quick-growing wood, is large enough to cleave into eight, and when the wood is very clean and straight they can sometimes get two lengths of fourteen feet out of a pole.</p> <div class="figcenter" style="width: 400px;"> <ANTIMG src="images/167_a.jpg" width="400" height="267" alt="Hoop-making in the Woods." title="" /> <span class="caption">Hoop-making in the Woods.</span> </div> <p>The brake is a strong flat-shaped post of oak set up in the ground to lean a little away from the workman. It stands five and a half feet out of the ground. A few inches from its upper end it has a shoulder cut in it which acts as the fulcrum for the cross-bar that supports the pole to be shaved, and that leans down towards the man. The relative position of the two parts of the brake reminds one of the mast and yard of a lateen-rigged boat. The bar is nicely balanced by having a hazel withe bound round a groove at its upper short end, about a foot beyond the fulcrum, while the other end of the withe is tied round a heavy bit of log or stump that hangs clear of the ground and just balances the bar, so that it see-saws easily. The cleft rod that is to be shaved lies along the bar, and an iron pin that passes through the head of the brake just above the point where the bar rides over its <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_168" id="Page_168"></SPAN>[168]</span>shoulder, nips the hoop as the weight of the stroke comes upon it; the least lifting of the bar releases the hoop, which is quickly shifted onwards for a new stroke. The shaving tool is a strong two-handled draw-knife, much like the tool used by wheelwrights. It is hard work, "wunnerful tryin' across the chest."</p> <p>The hoops are in several standard lengths, from fourteen to two and a half feet. The longest go to the West Indies for sugar hogsheads, and some of the next are for tacking round pipes of wine. The wine is in well-made iron-hooped barrels, but the wooden hoops are added to protect them from the jarring and bumping when rolled on board ship, and generally to save them during storage and transit. These hoops are in two sizes, called large and small pipes. A thirteen-foot size go to foreign countries for training vines on. A large quantity that measure five feet six inches, and called "long pinks," are for cement barrels. A length of seven feet six inches are used for herring barrels, and are called kilderkins, after the name of the size of tub. Smaller sizes go for gunpowder barrels, and for tacking round packing-cases and tea-chests.</p> <p>The men want to make all the time they can in the short winter daylight, and often the work is some miles from home, so if the weather is not very cold they make huts of the bundles of rods and chips, and sleep out on the job. I always admire the neatness with which the bundles are fastened up, and the strength of the withe-rope that binds them, for sixty <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_169" id="Page_169"></SPAN>[169]</span>hoops, or thirty pairs, as they call them, of fourteen feet, are a great weight to be kept together by four slight hazel bands.</p> <div class="floatleft" style="width: 262px"> <ANTIMG src="images/169left_a.jpg" width="262" height="350" alt="Hoop-shaving." title="" /> <span class="caption">Hoop-shaving.</span> </div> <div class="floatright" style="width: 257px"> <ANTIMG src="images/169right_a.jpg" width="257" height="350" alt="Shed-roof, thatched with Hoop-chip." title=""/> <span class="caption">Shed-roof, thatched with Hoop-chip.</span> </div> <p class="nofloat">In this industry there is a useful by-product in the shavings, or chips as they call them. They are eighteen inches to two feet long, and are made up into small faggots or bundles and stacked up for six months to a year to dry, and then sell readily at twopence a bundle to cut up for fire-lighting. They also make a capital thatch for sheds, a thatch nearly a foot thick, warm in winter, and cool in summer, and durable, for if well made it will last for forty years. I got a clever old thatcher to make me a hoop-chip roof for the garden shed; it was a long job, and he took his time (although it was piece-work), preparing and placing each handful of chips as carefully as if he was making a wedding bouquet. He was one of the old sort&mdash;no scamping of work for him; his work was as good as he could make it, and it was his pride and delight. The roof was prepared with strong laths nailed horizontally across the rafters as if for tiling, but farther apart; and the chips, after a number of handfuls had been duly placed and carefully poked and patted into shape, were bound down to the laths with soft tarred cord guided by an immense iron needle. The thatching, as in all cases of roof-covering, begins at the eaves, so that each following layer laps over the last. Only the ridge has to be of straw, because straw can be bent over; the chips are too rigid. When <span class="pagenum"><SPAN name="Page_170" id="Page_170"></SPAN>[170]</span>the thatch is all in place the whole is "drove," that is, beaten up close with a wooden bat that strikes against the ends of the chips and drives them up close, jamming them tight into the fastening. After six months of drying summer weather he came and drove it all over again.</p> <p>Thatching is done by piece-work, and paid at so much a "square" of ten by ten feet. When I asked for his bill, the old man brought it made out on a hazel stick, in a manner either traditional, or of his own devising. This is how it runs, in notches about half an inch long, and dots dug with the point of the knife. It means, "To so much work done, �4, 5s. 0d."</p> <p class="bill">IIXXX�I�, IIXXXX�II&and; IIII&and;XX,IIXX</p> <hr style="width: 65%;" /><div class="pagenum">
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