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Thursday, 31 August 2006

Hedgerows - Page 3

Written by Katherine Breen
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Hiking toward the summit of Pen Y Fan, third tallest peak in Wales, the burden of keeping up with long-legged leaders forced my head down as I gasped for air. It wasn’t until I got to the summit that I finally looked around. That’s when it happened – I became captivated by the net-like pattern across the valley slopes. Also likened to spider webs or embroidery work sewn into the hills, the pattern is formed by hedgerows – the patchwork quilt of ancient people of the Bronze Age that has survived Norman occupation and the more recent accommodation of modern farm equipment.







The elder man nodded, took the poles and passed them to his son. Billy hopped back into the car and Mick sped off.

Sook, then, patiently identified examples of the various crops used in his hedges.  “The catkins are out early this year on the hazels,” he noted as he playfully brushed his index finger underneath a clump of them.  “And here…here are the black thorn, or are these the hawthorn?” he asked the younger man.  They determined those were the hawthorns and then he hauled out a white thorn branch from the pile of brush he trimmed from the pleachers.

In just a few minutes Sook answered all the remnant questions I had about the hedges themselves.  “But what about you, Sook?” I wondered.  “How do you know how to do this?”

“Well, my father and his father and grandfather before him have done the hedges on Glanusk for over a hundred and fifty years.”

“And you two?”  I didn’t say anymore and yet he knew what I meant.  He touched his index finger to his breast and extended it out to the young man and nodded.

“You are father and son.”

“Ay.” It explained the traditional dress on one and the modern dress –American baseball shirt, cap and jeans on the other. I knew I entered a rare space, suspended somewhere between past and present, silence and direction, axe and chainsaw.  It was where father and son work in such close harmony that over 150 years of understanding can pass with no words spoken.


Just then, the Honorable Lady Shawn Legge-Bourke squealed up in her bright red Peugeot, blocking the farm entrance from the back lane. She parked as if she owned the place, which she does. She and her forebears gave a home and work to all of Sook’s family.

It was immediately apparent that owner and tenant alike laid claim to the hedges. “You know Kathy, I planted those trees seven years ago for that hedge.”  Mrs. Legge-Bourke spoke in a delicious London accent that poured out of her throat as smooth as the fine tobacco that cured her chords. She was the last of the landowners who take personal pride in her role of provider for all who lived on her land .  She could speak to anyone from royalty to hedgerow layer with equanimity.

She and Sook lapsed into a moment of gossiping about things which hedgerow layers would be most concerned about – neighbors who neglect their hedges.  Their technical language surrounding the needed repair to the neighbor’s hedgerows exceeded my novice understanding.  But all was quite clear when Mrs. Legge-Bourke raised her eyebrows, lit a “fag,” and declared, “It’s just a nonsense.”  Sook and his son nodded in somber agreement.

As I turned to leave, Mrs. Legge-Bourke stabbed the air with her cigarette; her deep, rich voice sluiced after me like thick, warmed syrup, “Daahling, you need to stop that jogging.  It could kill you.” She needn’t have known that it was my obsession with the hedges themselves that almost killed me that first September. Together she and Sook walked to the completed hedge and his son loaded the trimmer, axe, and chain saw into the cart.orphans


(Page 3 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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