Saturday, 28 March 2009

Back to Nature

It's just before nine in the morning and I'm walking through Guildford, in Surrey. I've just dropped a car off at a Nissan dealership here and now need to get to an NHS centre about a mile away to pick up my next vehicle.

The first part of the walk takes me along a path through a small stretch of open ground. On one side is the road I drove in on, still busy with morning traffic, while on the other is the quietly flowing river Wey.

As I drove in I had fleetingly noticed some kind of wooden statue along here, carved out of a large tree stump. It looked like a hand reaching upwards but with short malformed fingers. It seemed to have been made deliberately ugly.

I was in a bad mood at the time - I had not only been caught in the morning traffic jams but had contributed to them as well by blocking a junction at a busy set of lights for a whole long minute after I pulled into the middle to turn right when the traffic in that direction was stationary. No-one sounded their horns at me but it felt like an amateurish thing to have done nonetheless.

But anyway, I am out of that car now and on foot again, intent on getting a second look at the statue, if only to clarify why I dislike it.

But before I find that one I find others, all carved from tree stumps, although 'stumps' is perhaps a misleading description as some of them are over ten feet high. There are, amongst other things, a large dragonfly, its head pointing downwards, a curled leaf the size and shape of a child's seat, and an owl perched on a sign which arches over the footpath and proclaims that the area is called Woodbridge Meadow.

There is also a long crescent of carved wood on which is written (I think) 'Today I have grown by walking amongst the trees.'

There is something enchanting about coming across these things so unexpectedly, and I am already preparing to change my opinion of the first one I saw before I reach it again and discover that I had mistaken what it was. The 'malformed fingers' are toes - it is a foot sticking out of the ground. There is another foot a few yards away. The half-buried creature also has two wooden hands with long, outstretched fingers, a grassy mound for a belly, and a rudimentary, cartoonish face.

I love the sense of humour that pervades the whole thing, and the desire to coax people into remembering a connection with the natural world, even here on the edge of an industrial area, in a town containing too much traffic and at least one too many impatient drivers.

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