Every young person dreams of growing up, and making their own hazel hurdle. We know we did.
Imagine then, our frustration at moving into a hazel woods, with the interlacing tasks of building a house and coppicing the wood, and our finding that hurdle (wattle) making was not so easy as we guessed. In fact, we couldn't get it right at all!
Enter Hopper, the local expert, who had been making hurdles in his sleep since he was 6. In all seriousness, Hopper was a surprise guest who literally enabled our hopes, empowered our designs, with the miracle of technique. Trial and error is all very well, but a highly experienced teacher is loads better.
So Hopper, who has been making hurdles for most of his professional life, as his literal bread and butter, soon set us straight on a number of key issues. For example (this is not made clear in the video), the 'sails', or upright posts, should be stuck into the ground, and not drilled into a log or any other encumberance.
So this is Hopper's guide to hurdle-making, given to us, and shared with you.
Hurdles are crucial technology, a method of turning long thin rounds of wood into flat panels, useful for walls or floors. For thousands of years, before the rise of timber-framing, and stone-piling, wattle and daub (hurdles and mud/poo/cob) was the standard house-building material.
And Hurdles were the ultimate transportable wall, used for penning animals, creating temporary gates, and for wind-breaks. They are so good at this latterly task, because they allow some wind through their gaps, so in a strong gust they are not overwhelmed and blown down.
The utility of hurdles in a number of realms of human activity led to the art of coppicing, whereby woods were made to produce regular, uniformly sized, wood. Hazel is coppiced every 10-12 years, in rotating areas, meaning that the stools, or base-stumps, will continuously re-generate, and never suffer death by old age, or by competition for light. The act of coppicing (which looks, to an untrained eye, like simply cutting the trees down), means the trees can live forever (or 1000 years +), other conditions willing. Cutting the trees down also regenerates the wild-flowers of the woodland floor, by allowing strong direct sunlight onto the dormant seeds, and creating the bloom of foxgloves etc. that have been waiting for just such an opportunity.
We used our new-learned hurdling tech to build a 16x16 foot platform, 3 ft off the ground, which kept us dry all winter. It creaked reassuringly, like an old house, and its flexibility added a refreshing spring to our steps.
Learning about hurdle-making made us re-evaluate the basic art of weaving, as a core human technology/magic. After all, is computer information not an incredibly complex weave of 0 and 1? Then there is all cloth, and baskets, and fishing nets etc.
Hurdling. Weaving. Staying dry and sheltered. These are the good things we like.
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