Water knows Posted on March 7, 2022

Highly rated as Poohsticks is, or are, as a non-violent water-sport, I can recommend one even better. You need a steepish slope, well-carpeted with leaves, preferably under substantial oak or beech trees. For equipment a stick will do, although a light border fork has the advantage. And you need a water supply; the teeniest stream will do. The game is to design a river. The power of gravity is both your collaborator and competitor. This is how I got on this afternoon.

I was climbing the slope, which falls to our very minor stream, when near the top I spotted a patch where leaves were afloat on a puddle. It took one poke with my fork to breach the rim and let a dribble out, a dozen beech leaves stirring, then lining up to spill over the edge. The dribble disappeared under the leaves, then a moment later came up, gleaming, and pushed more leaves aside to head down the slope a few feet, before it lost momentum on a tiny plateau.

Which way next? I watched it spreading, speculating which was the low point where it would make a breach. A moment later it chose the spot, pushed a few brown leaves aside and gathered speed downhill. I looked back; already a silver thread had formed, water organizing into a rivulet and picking up speed, gravity calling. Where next? I nudged it one way; it decided on another. My survey was a millimetre out. Water knows.

A few feet lower it met a dam, a stout twig barricaded with leaves. A little pool started to form, soon a few crystalline inches deep. Impatient, I put the boot in, trod on the twig and the weight of the puddle surged out, no hesitating about its direction. I stood, surveying, where would it stop, regroup and choose its next route? It headed for a grey beech trunk, met a young holly that deflected its flow, was balked by a patch of moss, gathered its force and sped on. The slope got steeper here; through bracken stems I could see the glitter of water lower down the slope. Walking backwards, balancing with my fork, I used my decisive weapon, my heel, to show it the way, a little trench in shiny clay. Leaves danced through, jostling, hiding the incipient stream until they reached the drop. It was a cascade now, pulling the silver thread down the hill to splash into the swelling stream below. How long would it take – perhaps another day – to meet the sandy estuary tide and join the sea?

Hugh’s Gardening Books

Trees

Trees was first published in 1973 as The International Book of Trees, two years after The World Atlas of Wine….

Hugh’s Wine Books

Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book

I wrote my first Pocket Wine Book in 1977, was quite surprised to be asked to revise it in 1978,…

Friends of Trad

John Grimshaw’s Garden Diary