Friday, August 06, 2010

Where the ring-dove broods

A poem by Rudyard Kipling called The Way through the Woods:
They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate.
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few)
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods…
But there is no road through the woods.
Here in the west of Ireland we live on a narrow one-lane bothareen ("little road") and the enclosing hedges are wildly rampant. The fuchsia, especially, spills outward, glorious with its Japanese-lantern blossoms, but quick to close on whatever car passes by. Left to themselves the hedges would smother the road as decisively as do the woods in Kipling's poem.

That's not likely to happen to our bothareen. These days there are too many new holiday houses down the way to allow the road to disappear. The new houses have tidy lawns that march right down to the pavement; one might as well be living in a Dublin suburb. Except for the grassy terrace directly in front of our cottage, our own field is a disgraceful wildness of gorse, bracken, heather and bramble that shields us from the road and the road from us. And that's the way we like it. Walking or driving the road in front of our property is like taking a garden path, lush with fuchsia blossoms and bell flowers and blackberries.

But the road is not ours alone, and the neighbors and the county council have other ideas. There was a time when our bothareen was called "the Fairies' Road" and "the Lovers' Road." Not any more. Now it belongs to the motor car and it's time to hire the guy with the tractor and mechanical hedge trimmer (devourer!) to cut back the wild, to tidy things up, to bring on the dull fastidiousness of civilization.