I love the slowness of timber growth and durability.  Years ago my brother introduced me to the notion of tempering timber to make it more long-lasting and since then I’ve been captivated by accounts of growing and using wood in a cycle amply exceeding a (human) life-time.  This includes the careful selection of different woods for different purposes. 

Elsewhere, I’ve recorded a lyrical description of oak being grown and used to make barrels for cognac.  See, in the same vein, our love letter to David Esterly’s The Lost Carving: A journey to the heart of making

Here, James Rebanks mentions a slow process for using apple wood.  While he isn’t proposing that we return to wooden wheels, he is encouraging us to take a longer look at how we do things, to consider their effects over a few generations.  

They say that the old wheelwrights planted, felled and stored apple trees in a three-generation cycle, so that their grandsons would have sufficient matured trees, and dried wood of the right kind, from which to make the hard wheel hubs they needed.  We need to live like that again, thinking longer term and with more humility.

Rebanks’ English Pastoral is a slim and quietly impassioned account of his family’s involvement in the transformation of farming from its age-old practice to a full on globalised industry with a number of doubtful outcomes, followed by an endeavour to move forward (not backward) to a more sustainable approach to farming.  It’s a succinct overview of the complexities of making that transition.  See our tribute to Rebanks’ marvelous earlier book, which touches on similar issues, A Shepherd’s Life. 

Source: James Rebanks, English Pastoral: An inheritance (London: Penguin, 2021), pp. 268-69

Photo credit: Momentmal at pixabay


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