Tales from the Wood

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Pigment in the Woods
Emerging from beneath the roots of a sweet chestnut I noticed this amber-coloured pigmented sand. I guess in might contain yellow ochre (although it does have leanings towards raw sienna). Whatever one might call it, I thought a bit of levigation might yield something worth using. After a few days sieving, diluting, settling and pouring I eventually ended up with an orange-rust coloured pigment. That’s a tiny little jar in the photo so the percentage of original material to pigment was not particularly great, however after mixing with a little home-made casein (basically cottage cheese and lime water - a process which I vaguely remember from my first week at art school) I ended up with a brush-stroke-full of casein paint. The small painted sycamore board (quite abstract-expressionist if it wasn’t just 5cm square) shows the final result, a rich earthy sienna - maybe worth pursuing?

Dog’s Vomit etc.
A real mixed bag this month: I spotted this slime mould in the wood which goes by the various names of dog’s vomit, scrambled egg slime, or the less stomach churning, Fuligo septica. I think it’s fairly toxic by nature but I was wondering if the yellow pigment could be preserved in some way; maybe I’ll dry a little out and see how it survives...or how I survive!

I hate strimming: it’s noisy, smelly and disturbs the wildlife so I needed very little encouragement to join a scything course run by Norfolk Wildlife Trust. I was so impressed that I bought an Austrian Scythe there and then and haven’t looked back. These lovely tools are as light as a feather and with the right guidance you can cut as fast as a strimmer with the benefits of almost silent rhythmic exercise.

On the NWT stand at the Royal Norfolk Show. The theme this year was Gardening for Wildlife so I tackled this 8 ft high Norfolk reed planting structure complete with penthouse bird box.

My neighbour on the other side of the wood popped across with this metal sign which he said fell of the footpath gate many years ago. Of course I had to reinstate it, if only for the tree illustrations distinguishing conifers from broadleaf - I always thought there was a difference!

The Merry Month of May
Looking over the coppice, now that the leaves have started to open, you can see just how effective the different deer protection systems have been over the last 3 seasons. The straight-forward stock fencing has been a great success but so have the brash coverings which, although need topping up regularly, cost nothing and are practically invisible once colonised by bramble and grasses. One thing is clear though - you do need a thick covering to start with : a light scattering of twigs will be simply shoved aside by a hungry muntjac or roe. The pollard (apparently sometimes called a coppard in this context) has made for the skies this year. It looks stunning.

‘It’s an Ill Wind’
A bit of variety this month. Spent some time thinning out another section of conifers and replanting with broadleaf. I have mixed feelings about the total conversion of conifer to broadleaf woodland. There’s a lot of evidence now pointing to the benefits of a balanced approach to re-planting schemes, it being particularly good for wildlife.

Talking of which; now the roe deer have spent so much time over-wintered in the woods they are getting very familiar with the comings and goings of woodland operations. A lovely little doe just stood motionless and gazed at me whilst I was working. I even had time to snap her with my camera-phone.

The latest storms tore into the wood and brought down a fair number of trees. That’s all well and good: it’s all part of the natural thinning process I guess. But then, when it destroyed a good section of the 4-week-old fence, I was a little less philosophical.

However, new innovations in crumpet fastening did smooth things over a little. It’s called ‘Grandpa’s fire fork’ and I wish I’d invented it: it’s simply brilliant. Converts any suitable stick into a two pronged skewer and its ‘sausage stability’ has to be seen to be believed.