Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Weald

Weald is related to the German Wald meaning woods and related to the British 'wold' as in the name of the Cotswold tourist town, Stow-on-the-Wold. I've always been enchanted by the woods, even as a kid. There were several 'woods' in my growing-up neighborhood that I explored and played in. My friends and I would often think of them as jungles, like the ones we saw in Tarzan films. Always cool and moist, these were places of great wonder and adventure.

To the Neolithic, the weald must have seemed enchanted as well. Fog and mist, odd tangles of vines, enormous tree trunks like elephant legs rising up to the canopy of green. Filtered sunlight and even more mysterious moon light created shadows on the forest floor, opening the imagination of those early humans.

Many wealds became sacred: a divine power contained within. Special trees themselves were venerated. The famous Germanic sacred Irmensul tree was chopped down in the 8th century by Charles the Great so as to end the 'pagan' worship of trees. What a shame; what ignorance. One famous weald in England is the Andredsweald.

Andredsweald was part of a vast forest, "bringing forth thorns and thistles unbid," the resort of wild animals, and of deer and swine, and rarely trodden by the foot of man. This woody tract was one of the largest, if not the largest, British forests. In C├Žsar's time it formed part of three kingdoms, Cantii (Kent), Regni (Sussex and Surrey), and Belgae (Hants, Wilts, and Somerset). It had a city and station during the occupation of Britain by the Romans.

"In Saxon times this district extended over the south-western extremity of the Kentish kingdom, and parts of the South Saxon and West Saxon kingdoms. It was in King Alfred's time, according to the Saxon Chronicle, 120 miles or longer from east to west, and 30 miles broad. The Limen or Rother flowed out of it, and its western confines were near Privett in Hampshire. Many places now bear very different names from those they once bore. What is now known to us as the Weald, which signifies in Saxon a woody country or forest, was known to the Britons as Coed-Andred, Coed being the British word for wood. The Romans called it Silva-Anderida. The Saxons called it Andred, Andredsley, and Andredsweald, and it retained the name of Andred for
centuries after the Romans abandoned Britain."

Today the rainforests are being cut down with abandon. Just this week, the President of Brazil, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, created three nature reserves in the Amazon on while warning foreigners they lack the "moral authority" to tell Brazilians how to preserve the rain forest.

"The territory is ours, but we want to share with humanity the benefits we are creating through preservation, because we want everybody to breathe the green air created by our forests," Silva said.

The temperate forests of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois were wiped out in the 1800's by ambitious immigrants looking to tap the soil for farming. Today a few nature preserves protect the original woods spared by the axe of the woodsmen. Yet trees are felled each day in the southern pine forests and the western rainforests of Oregon and Washington. The sounds of the chainsaw bounce through the weald, driving out whatever spirit resided there. What a shame; what ignorance.

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