Playing the long game

Words by:
Maxim Griffin
Featured in:
November 2023

By Maxim Griffin.

Developers, by their very nature, will develop – turn your back for five minutes and they’ve cut down half a mile of medieval hedgerow and filled the meadow with asbestos and ashes – they can’t help themselves – soon enough everything will be built on – we’ve discussed this before and here we are – the inevitable – profit over value.

The field was one of those half-hidden patches – tangled up – full of foxes, blackthorn, muntjac and brambles – a shortcut to nowhere – big enough for dogs to run – covered with blossom in the spring, neck deep in grasses come summer – never built on, always green – ridge and furrow, adders – y’know, generally good – and now it’s all over – this time next year it’ll all be semis.

One could get angry, write letters, navigate the vagaries of the district council planning portal, one could form a residents’ group, attack through proper channels – one could also raise hexes, bring curses, deploy the powers of mischief, become the maker of rude signs and crude heathen effigies, and become the guerrilla in the hedgerow.

There’s a lot of it about – the failure of HS2, the pollution of the rivers and the sea, Sycamore Gap and so on – a fella could get depressed – or you could play the long game, think bigger – something that’ll last – something sustainable and elegant.

Wood investments
Bloke on the market sells chopping boards and things – makes them himself – nothing twee, just nice wooden things – this week he’s got a dozen oak saplings. How much mate? Fiver each – good deal – here’s sixty (investing the monies from last month’s article in trees and having change for chippy tea and beer – winner) – twelve saplings to the good and a sudden mission presents itself – where to dig, where to plant – could do with a pair of hands or three, questions of logistics.

Half an hour later, a few young assistants march home with the makings of a forest in their arms – plans to be made – one tree as a gift for a dying friend – one for the memory of a brother-in-law – four for the sons when they move along – we’re dealing out saplings the way Sauron dishes out rings – six left – there’s a friend who owns land on the eastern meanders of the river, a friend whose land will be untouched, who understands the value of trees – a phone call is made – deal done – he’ll light the fire – see you in an hour.

Joseph Beuys planted seven thousand oaks around Berlin before he died – one last magical action – we’ve got six – it’s a start – boots on, a few snacks in our packs, some digging tools and a message in a bottle to be set under the first sapling in – the message reads: These oaks were planted by the Griffin boys, 6th October 2023. This is our magical action – who’ll read it? Who knows? As the man says, dream a little bigger darling.

The young assistants march east with the trees – a forest on the move through new builds, demolitions – there’s another patch fenced off, awaiting development – so it goes, so it goes.

The forest moves on, down to the river and along – there haven’t been so many trout this year but there’re three egrets and a heron – the water doesn’t smell well – tainted, manky – debris in the weir – there are good people who come every few months to clear it but, y’know, it always comes back.

Planting for future generations
Our friend is waiting at the gate – a footpath runs through his field – couple of dog walkers about with panting wet Springers – fuss is given as is correct – our friend says the oaks can go anywhere, but maybe the southern side of the meander is best – there’s a firepit sheltered by a copse of small apple trees, a little smoke rising through them – a fire crackling away, logs for benches. There are six of us including our friend – one sapling each then – we pace out from the fire in a rough circle – six steps to the apples, then six more – and six for luck. The saplings are set down and the digging begins, not enough spades to go round – the boys run off or poke the fire with sticks – snacks are shared out while six holes are dug – the soil is soft and giving – a little chalk, a little flint – clay mostly – we lay the stones back in the bottom of each pit, a little barrier for drainage – it gets wet here in winter. In goes the message in a bottle – perhaps to be unearthed in a thousand years or so – a little high five for the present to the unwritten future – playing the long game here lads.

And that’s the thing – are you willing to play a longer game than the enemy? Can you see beyond profit into value? Are your actions in the present going to have worthwhile meaning for the generations? These actions don’t have to be sweeping and grand – they don’t have to strive for the cosmic, but it’s as good a point as any to aim for.

Six trees in – lads do the backfill, pass around the spades – our friend tends the fire and the lads brush the muck off their hands – good day’s work – our magical act – perhaps in a thousand years the branches of one of these oaks will feed a different fire, perhaps they’ll be petrified stumps under the currents of the new northern ocean.

Day turns to evening – the blood orange sun hitting the hills – a red spread blushing away after – jet lines fade – passing the field on the way back – chain link fence / threats to trespassers / no trees, no hedges – it’s a great shame but we’re 12 oaks to the good and that’s a start – now it’s your turn.

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