At the furthest part of my walk with Ruby, my dog, there is a small field or enclosure. It is roughly the shape of a triangle, of the kind that the Ancient Pythagoras liked so much. The hypotenuse is bounded by some trees and then the river, fresh and lively here from its descent off Marsden Moor. The other long side – but not quite as long as the hypotenuse, of course (cross-refer above-mentioned Pythagoras) – is bounded by a beautifully layered hedge in the traditional style and then by the trans-Pennine railway track. The short side of the triangle, which most of us would call the base, is an elaborate drystone wall, with special holes to allow sheep through and a stone stile for human beings.
We know it as “The Secret Garden”, though it is neither a garden nor very secret. It is only secret in the sense that everything in this world is secret if it is more than a quarter of a mile from a road!
It is, however, full of wild flowers that bloom in their seasons. There are daffodils under the hedge, and hazel catkins and blackthorn blossom in it. In this sense, it is a garden. We are waiting for the cowslips in the grass and the heavenly scent of meadowsweet in high summer.
In one of the angles there is a young walnut tree that has been badly damaged by gales or vandals. I feel protective towards it, for the walnut is an aristocrat among trees – tall and stately and solitary, with nuts that look like tiny brains, and eventually timber that is without rival for beauty.
Imagine my shock and horror yesterday, when Ruby and I went into this hallowed space, to find people there with spades and laminated notice boards.
It was like walking into Lincoln Cathedral to find a funfair in the nave.
My first thought was Developers. They had come to ‘develop’ the Secret Garden into riverside flats! Then sanity prevailed: the place is surrounded by the railway, the river and the canal. The logistics would be horrendous.
There was nothing for it but to talk to them. So I did. So did Ruby, but she was a bit worked up about it all, and she was just repetitively irritating. Although she’s actually Welsh, she’s a bit like English people abroad. If they don’t understand, just say it louder.
It turned out they weren’t developers or builders or surveyors. They were conservation workers.
Now, I don’t have any problems with conserving things. Most things, actually. We’re usually too anxious to scrap everything, forget the wisdom of the past, and start all over again. This applies equally to public utilities, education systems, management structures and health services, as it does to areas of nature and woodland.
So please don’t let them move in permanently, to make the badger sett “accessible” (to people who want to kill badgers), or “tidy up” the wild areas where the voles and shrews forage. Please leave some parts of this earth untamed, scruffy, and hospitable to creatures other than arrogant and selfish homo sapiens, who seem to think that the world should be a park.
Please don’t misunderstand me. Of course, wheelchairs must be catered for. But just leave somewhere for the rabbits and the little things that live in uncut grass and unpaved soil.