Bird Haunts and Nature Memories/Chapter 10


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TIME has healed the wounds, effaced the scars. Many years ago man—commercial, go-ahead man—saw the red sandstone outcrop amidst the bracken and beneath the smooth-holed beeches; he saw and calculated, then brought his tools of steel and iron, Ruthlessly he backed down the ancient timbers and dug out their roots; he soothed the undulations, nature's lines of beauty and grace; he filled in the little valleys and the hollow where for ages the brook had worked so patiently; he laid down branches and barrow-loads of broken stones where the ground was soft and made a road. Along this road, little more than a track amongst the trees, he dragged his lumbering carts, scoring deep gashes and ruts in the sweet earth, the leaf-mould of hundreds of years. The thunder of blasting-powder startled the ringdoves a mile away and set the pheasants crowing; its smothering fumes tainted the scented air. He hacked off masses of rock and shaped them with his clinking chisels, and soon great red walls appeared, and ladders were lowered to enable the worker to reach the more difficult spots. So the pit deepened, and the scar became larger and redder.

Round the thatched sheds, thatched with straw and the bracken he had destroyed, was a litter of broken pots and bottles, empty tins, rusty iron, and waste paper; it was the chaos of untidy man. But in the country round, and in the towns, walls were built, substantial stone houses were erected, and stately square-towered churches, and the tortured, tool-hacked stone lost its brilliant natural red and darkened to a beautiful weathered grey or brown. Then, having got what he wanted, he left the quarry and looked for stone elsewhere, leaving an unsightly hollow, filled with spoil and rubbish—a blot upon the landscape.

But another worker was ready to continue the task. Nature stepped in when man stepped out, and with an ordered disorder began to heal. The pine-needles dropped from the firs above, the browning wind-drifted beech leaves found refuge in the bottom from the blast, the winged sycamore seeds whirled through the air, the elderberries rolled down the slope. Paper rotted, and the mice tore it up to line their grass nests; mould and fungus devoured the dead wood, and even the despised wood-louse did its share; leaves and the earthworms buried the glass, pot, and iron. Winter storms shattered the deserted sheds; props gave way and allowed great masses of earth to fall on the discarded stone; earth and moss, living green cushions, filled in the unsightly tool wounds. In spring the nettles appeared, and sapling sycamores and elders, and even tiny birches, pushed their way through the earth; grass grew over the road, and the brambles and wild roses sent trailing prickly stems in all directions; honeysuckle and ivy climbed and trailed, holding alike to rock and to the growing vegetation.

Season followed season, year succeeded year, each bringing marked changes, evidence of growth, and now we look into the old quarry and say that it is beautiful. Those rough, weathered grey rocks with a ruddy tinge here and there are covered with lovely lichens and mosses. The sunlight only reaches the depths of the quarry through the overhanging foliage, and dapples the thick mass of elders and sycamores in the hollow with shivering light and shade. The evergreen ivy carpets the ground and old spoil bank, climbs the birches, and mounts the wall. Half-way up gorse has found a lodgment, covering the green wall with a patch of gold in spring, whilst in autumn the children find the old quarry a fruitful garden for blackberries. The men has her nest on the ivy-clad wall; the whitethroat and willow wren hunt for aphides on the broad sycamore leaves and fill the air with delicious music; the wasps have taken possession of the rotting thatch, and the air hums with the vibration of myriad other gauzy wings. The rabbit throws out the sandy earth, and the fox has safe shelter in a pile of broken rocks, useful for his home, it beneath the notice of man. The turtle-dove purrs in the birch, the woodpigeon coos in the beech; nightly the owl leaves his ivy-bower to hunt round the old quarry, whilst the bats dodge in and out amongst the branches. In the close summer days the hollow hums with insect life; millions of whirring wings produce a low but steady booming note, and in the evening the trees and bushes are haunted by the silently flying, ghostly moths. Nature has reclaimed her own.

Man must have stone and brick and coal; he can no longer exist in natural holes or beneath the uncertain shade of the trees. Yet the artistic eye is shocked by the damage and unsightly mess of the quarry, the mine, and the brickfield. Æsthetic taste rebels against the destruction of the picturesque, and demands that something must be done to stop the levelling of a Penmaenmawr, the quarrying of an Ailsa Craig, the mining in a Tilberthwaite Ghyll. Are these outraged champions of nature prepared to do without stone and metal? Let them wait. Let them look, for instance, at the Thames Embankment, and then visit the great quarry on Lundy Island, whence the stone came. Nature, there, has reasserted herself and reconstructed marvellous beauty. There is nothing sordid or unsightly in those tern and heather clad granite rocks, even if some show the tool-marks and drill-holes. Let them look at the noble old church, with all its evidences of the art of man, and then at the rugged, tree-grown, ivy-clothed sandstone quarry in the wood. Nature very quickly heals the wounds and regains her own.