‘Contrary’ is a word that has followed Gene Logsdon; several of his previous books consider how to be a ‘contrary farmer’ and lead a ‘contrary life’. I suspect many of us can identify with the benefits and comforts of being contrary. Taking another look at the way people do things and wondering why is just one of those benefits.
If you wanted to lead a more ‘contrary’ lifestyle, well Gene Logsdon’s back catalogue could take you all the way from gardening self sufficiency on two acres, through aquaculture, the influence of farming on creativity, small scale grain cultivation, to nothing more ambitious than being happy and content with life as it is. At least, that is one of the messages I got from his latest book, my best read of 2012.
A Sanctuary of Trees is a simple and practical book about living with wood. Chapters consider how to start up your own woodland, how much timber it might produce, what you can use it for, and how much wood it takes to keep warm. You’ll also find advice on wildwood food, green woodworking, how to find useful woods in the suburbs, and wood stove efficiency comparisons from someone who has clearly tried out nearly everything.
As a guide to wood, it is clearly reliable as well as useful. But this book is so much more than that. It is a gentle philosophy of life that recognises how good things can be when humans take a minor part in an ecosystem, rather than choosing to dominate it. He reflects on decades of experience of woodland management and concludes it’s best to resist the impulse to weigh in with your sleeves rolled up, crashing around with an intent to improve. “The most profound lesson the trees have tried to teach me is patience,” he says. Use the trees’ lifespan, rather than your own, as a measure for woodland management and, in the end, he reflects that there is little difference in tree growth and yield in woodland areas where immense effort goes in to thinning and brush clearance, and areas where nature is left alone.
In particular, I found his thoughts on the beauty of wood, the magical architecture of trees, and the value of tranquillity so appealing, so persuasive that I was inspired to think again about my own contrary life in a city and whether there are more ways I could live closer to wood. “The real work of humans is to make sure that woodlands are not turned into more concrete or corn,” he says, “Nature can handle the rest.” I loved his perceptions of humanity striving to fit into straight lines, flat surfaces, square corners as running counter to nature. As he says, “Straight lines end; circles are forever. The earth is round.” Finding use in the curves and shape, in life, as well as wood, is natural, human. Actually, it’s not contrary at all.
More books on woodland:
The Woodland Way by Ben Law
The Woodland Year by Ben Law
A Wood of Our Own by Julian Evans
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