The beauty and wisdom of hedgerows.

“God, in his infinite wisdom, created the earth.  Man, in his infinite impatience, has been rearranging it ever since.”

These are the opening words of a video presentation that I wrote for a client more than 40 years ago.  The client was a manufacturer of large earth-moving and construction equipment.  

But suddenly, 40-some years later, the words had jumped up and were poking me in the head again.  I was looking at pictures of hedgerows at the time.  And variations of this theme kept coming to mind.

Hedgerows are literally rows of mixed vegetation that have been cut and “laid” into tightly woven living walls.  I was reading about how they had been first created at least 2,000 years ago, perfected during Roman times.  I was learning how those early creators had utilized nature simply as it stood at first, but then had purposefully planned and planted them.  

Over the centuries, hedgerows have gone in and out of favor with civilization – planted and dug up, replanted and uprooted yet again – removed, relocated, rejuvenated, remembered, relearned.  But personally, I am a great fan.  I find their patterns fascinating, the art as well as the philosophy of them beautiful.  And the more I’ve learned of their history and purpose and functionality and efficiency, the more I am in awe of them.

Hedgerows were originally meant to act as corrals for animals and crops, guarding and protecting them from harsh weather and predators and other forms of loss.  During times of war (as recent as WWII), hedgerows even protected warriors and soldiers from enemies.  They have provided plants and flowers for medicines, berries for food, wood for warmth.  And they have nurtured vast numbers of species of life – birds and small animals, insects and pollinators, flowering and fruit-bearing plants, tall trees and deep roots; all while holding fast to the ground beneath their feet, keeping the very earth itself safe from erosion.

Hedgerows are laid in a number of intriguing patterns and rhythmic forms.  But the basic creation technique is to make a cut at a downward angle into a sapling that is standing in a copse of trees and bushes, leaving it still intact on one side; then bending the tender, slender trunk away from itself, weaving it into other nearby plants or stakes to hold it firmly in place – like arms draped across the shoulders of their dance partners.  Eventually, a solid wall of “hedge” emerges – each bending branch a thread within the overall tapestry of it.  

Because the angled cut into the stem of the tree keeps it in touch with itself, with its feet still grounded, new saplings begin to be born from it – as if they were eager children learning the dance at their parent’s knee.  Later, they too can be cut and bent and brought into the pattern, reinforcing and even raising the hedge profile higher and higher and higher.

Country landscapes are still laced with hedgerows – particularly in the UK.  And they are especially compelling when seen from above.  More and more countries are now preserving them, repairing them.  And creating new ones.  

I’m glad there is a new awakening to the wisdom of hedgerows – the interweaving of nature’s bounty with the help of human hands (God’s creation, with human “rearrangement” of it).  Because I suspect that the allegory of hedgerows is important:  When we break ourselves open, there can be new growth.  When we lay down our own lives, we are able to weave ourselves together with other lives – sometimes with those that are vastly different.  And together we create something greater and stronger and more beautiful than any one of us would be alone.  All while other wildly diverse living things are protected and nurtured and saved for the next generation – including the very earth upon which we live.

Perhaps if we were more like hedgerows, we could become great expanses of interconnected grace, weaving past into future, one generation to the next.  Perhaps we could even be seen from the stars.