Birnam Wood Comes To Goats’ Domain
Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill/Shall come against him.
I’ll pass June of an evening on her way out to the goats; she’ll have an unwieldy bundle – as much as she can manage – of poplar or willow twigs in her arms. Shakespeare’s words – rendered in the popular imagination as “Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane” – become our in-joke: “Birnam Wood comes to Goats’ Domain”.
In the course of a year I reckon June would have accumulated the cut branches needed by Malcolm’s soldiers. His ‘Birnam Wood on the move’ army went on – as the prophecy predicted – to defeat Macbeth holed up in his castle on Dunsinane Hill.
The bonfires we have in ‘the gully of the little owls’ burn several months’ worth of twigs and slender branches: the goats take buds, twigs, some bark, and leaves in season, and the flames, at their peak, from burning a big heap of what they don’t eat, wouldn’t look out of place in an army encampment.
We’re not at war with the goats, but we would be if they got into the shelterbelt of recently planted ribbonwoods and lacebarks. Goats need to browse as much as they need pasture. So, year round, “Birnam Wood comes to goats’ domain”.
The thin pole and twig bonfires are a fast burn. It’s our way of life that’s a slow burn. It took June months over autumn and through to mid-winter to cut new growth shooting high from the truncated trunks of the Lombardy poplars that line our drive.
The longer, thicker poles sprouting from close to or at the severed top of a trunk of substantial girth (but felled to leave it only 2.5 metres high), get lopped off, leaving the shorter, slender shoots to fill out for cutting the following year. That way June can do all of the pruning from ground level, mostly using pruning shears on an extendable shaft. (An inspired gift from son Joseph.) Any poles galloping away lower down the trunk she nips off with long-handled scissor-action shears.
One person, using hand tools, can get the job done. It’s labour intensive (what isn’t round here), but, as I said, it’s a ‘slow burn’, not burnout: one bite at a time. Bite, over months, till you finish the last tree, look back, and what do you see?
Trees of sufficient height and, thwarted in their upward ambitions, pushing energy sideways into branches up the trunks: effective shade givers and wind filters, but not so tall that they would shade the vegetable garden. (Like they used to do before I cut short their Lombardy poplar skyward rocketing.)
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully till next Monday. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.