A field in Lincolnshire…
By Maxim Griffin
Could be anywhere – every town has this field – off path, mostly hidden, beyond Victorian industrial buildings and an ocean of nettles – up a track that leads to a haunted bungalow – a fog of cow parsley straight out of Stalker – a desire line worn in by dog walkers and shortcut kids. Every town has this field – the grass hasn’t been cut for 30 years, the hedges having a living memory of the civil war – and the soil that slowly turns beneath the roots carries the weirdness of the deeper past – every town has this field and they are precious and strange.
Leave a place for long enough and it will begin to govern itself – this is how the field operates – a subtle and knotty independence – out of sight and out of mind – rare weeds flourish – 300 generations of magpie have nested without disturbance – lost footballs stay lost – three summers back some fella lived in a red tent under the arms of the blackthorns in the far corner – a dog walker you know said, yes, there are grass snakes and yes, they found a late Roman coin there – every town has this field.
The field, closing in on midsummer – just after six and the heat is already rising – muntjac make use of the short nights and exploit the field as a safe passage from the fields to town – they’re getting bolder – in the small hours of dark they will strut down the town’s main throughfares in search of scraps – makes you wonder, why are they taking the risk of roads and people?
The sun is already casting over the deep grasses – something dashes east and away – two more – the deer are retreating for the day – not far though – a dog walker you know has seen them grazing here at midday – you’ve not seen a hare for years but this morning here there was a hare – a vixen basks at the edge of the thorns – it’s idyllic, almost ridiculous – perhaps these are the Animals of Farthing Wood?
Every town has this field.
A question of value
It’s the dog walker who tells you – developer, 40 detached houses, the hedges will go, no path through even – shame, inevitable really – they tried five or six years back, but someone pulled a few strings, expressed the right concerns, told a tall story or two about great crested newts and prehistoric finds – you check the local planning applications – blimey, it’s going to be a mess – they’re already building a couple of patches over and want to join it all together – the dog walker says he’s looked into it – checked the LiDAR – yup, it’s ridge and furrow under the grass but not protected, not a scheduled monument. They’ve looked into it – the desire line isn’t an official path but it crops up on an older map, OS 1880s, they’ve already put in an application to the council to make it a right of way – the dog walker knows their stuff – every town has this dog walker.
You look into it – if it were social housing, affordable housing that would be OK, but 40 detached houses for 40 BMWs and 40 Astroturf lawns – they can’t have the field for that – they can’t exchange the index of grasses for greengrocer’s plastic. You take a step back – don’t want to become nimby about it – the field already has a voice, you just need to articulate it – it’s a question of value – on one hand the value of the field is financial – millions probably – you try to see the legacy of these riches – look ahead to how the value of the field will transform into something more valuable in the future – it doesn’t, it never does – profit is temporary, riches are fleeting. On the other hand the value of the field is more complicated – this value takes in ecology and habitat, questions of green space, the rights of ordinary beasts – the value of picking blackberries, the value of fallow deer, foxes, dormice, lizards and badgers, the value of walking neck deep in wet cow parsley, the value of magpies, sloes, grass snakes, ridges and furrows, dark skies, the value of the ritual to the dog walker, the value of the shortcut, the value of places secret and hidden, the value of places that organise themselves on their own terms.
An ear to the ground
You keep an eye on the situation, an ear to the ground – the objections build up – the water board aren’t happy about it, a question of capacity for foul water, drainage and so on – they’ve got a point – the field freezes over in the middle of winter, shallow water table see, something to do with the clay those medieval ploughs didn’t turn – the dog walker you know passes on daily updates while your dogs thunder through the long grass, kicking up pollen and seeds in delicate golden clouds – they’ve heard the developer isn’t happy at all – he’ll try again for sure, tick the right boxes with blacker ink – it’s just a matter of time – maybe so, but this field has held out so far, on its own terms of knotty independence.
Every town has this field – derelict, unclear, thriving – soon the long grasses will turn ochre and blossom with the hatching of a billion spiderlings – in the first light of the sun the cobwebs will be extraordinary – the value of these future cobwebs has more depth than the profits made from a host of four bed detached with ample parking and that is the truth of it.
The dog walker you know waves from across the field – their dog races to yours with ecstatic greeting – you notice their usual pumps are replaced with battered wellies – it has not rained significantly since that great storm weeks ago.
The dog walker says they saw an adder here yesterday evening – oh, protected species, nice – yup, says the dog walker, and I’ve seed bombed the field for good measure – wild flowers, rare species, untouchable orchids – good work.
Every town has this field, every town has this dog walker.