The following morning I met Joby at the yard around eight. I arrived to find him knee-deep in chestnut, material we’d unloaded from the lorry the previous day. He was busy cleaving the larger posts with a sledgehammer and wedges. It was a handsome sight, the stack of cleft wood multiplying, vivid strips of ochre against the green backdrop of the yard.
I watched him work the sledge, knocking a first steel wedge into the post-end, before using two others to work the split down the length. Just as the split was running to its conclusion, the whole post would shiver in two with a pleasing pop. Joby worked fast and efficiently, as all who know their craft, and there was a certain beauty to his movement. While I’d hesitate to call it balletic – the vision being of a short, stocky man pirouetting around with a 10lb hammer – there was a poise and economy of motion which was impressive.
A few feet from all this activity, a small camp fire popped and cracked, several off-cuts of sweet chestnut hurling sparks. With not a breath of wind, the woodsmoke rose languidly, curling around itself in a dance, the most unlikely progeny of the surly, spitting chestnut below.
I stared at the fire. It immediately dated the yard, but in the best sense, confirming that this was a place that did not conform to any modern template – a place that refused to comply. Making a fire is an act of love. It is always becoming, lending a space humanity and comfort. Instantly, the wood yard was no longer just a place of work; inside its hurdle gates, the dull modern maxim that divides ‘life’ from ‘work’ had melted away. The yard, the fire and everything in it simply said, ‘All is life. Be.’
It was a vision that unlocked my heart. It was as if the fire had smelted a rough, hard mineral – that thing called work – and reduced it to liquid matter, something which could be cast more creatively. I studied the wood yard, dressed beautifully with its gathered material, Joby’s tools, the simple shelter. This was a better alternative. It took its cue from the peasant and the craftsman, an old way that given the converging crises of our modern times could also be seen as a missive from the future – something which would take more vivid shape in the reckoning to come.