Law B. (2013) Woodsman – Living in a Wood in the 21st Century Collins ISBN 978 0 00 741627 1
The back cover of Ben Law‘s new book Woodsman says: Ben Law’s connection with the natural world, his knowledge for its welfare and survival is an inspirational window into a way of life we’ve lost. Woodsman is Ben Law’s journey from our modern lives back into the heart of nature.
The name Ben Law might not ring many bells, but his house probably will. It was once voted the most popular build ever recorded on Grand Designs, you’ll know the one, the bloke in the wood who built his own round wood house in a wood with the help of friends? It was an inspirational story, and one that Ben Law has continued to developed ever since. These days his website offers apprenticeships in woodland management and he’s developing a thriving business promoting the use of round wood and green wood in construction.
This book however goes back to his roots if you pardon the pun, and shares the story of how he came to live in the 100 acre wood he calls home, how he learned to live in it and learn from it, how he developed the knowledge he needed to care for it and to earn a living from it.
It’s a story of remarkable resolve, of bloody-mindedness, of hard physical graft and an almost transcendental connectedness with the woodland around him.
At times the book slips close to becoming a manual of woodland management; and the liberal use of archane technical language: bender, binders, brash, cant, cleave, coppice,crown, faggot, maiden, mortise, pollard, pleachers, ride, rootstock, snedding, standard, suckering and windblow poetic though it often is, can form a barrier, barring the casual 21st C reader from a fuller immersion in Law’s passionate belief in the possibility of a truly sustainable future – for us all.
In the final chapter, in just twenty pages, Ben Law shares his Arcadian, democratic vision for a post-oil crisis future.
It’s the most thought-provoking, and at times most disturbing part of the book, as his vision is both logical and extreme. It’s a powerfully principled polemic, there’s no rural whimsy here, more it’s a move from the cities back to the land, from urban to rural subsistence, and it’s defined by 20 years of back breaking woodland stewardship and years of learning how to tread light upon the land.
Woodsman is a fascinating read, Law is little short of being a visionary, his radical argument sustained by clear-sighted common sense. Incidentally, you’ll be relieved to know that he finds a place in his post-oil crisis world for a return to canal-based, horse-drawn transportation of good across the country – so there may be a boat-shaped future for us all yet!