2 minute read

The Ground We Stand On: Angus Bruce

Angus Bruce treks on timber in the wilderness of Tasmania and Patagonia

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden, (1854).

For those who willingly venture out and immerse themselves in nature, you will understand what it means to connect with the wilderness and truly escape. Hiking, trekking, roaming, tramping – no matter what you call it, the experience of losing oneself in the elements is the same. It is at times uplifting, enlightening and even spiritual. Muscles hurt, lungs seem fuller, eyes are wider and more attuned to the surrounds. You feel alive!

The experience of connecting with nature – seeing, feeling, hearing and smelling the environment in its rawest state – is in part achieved through ‘the trail’. That, at times, signposted and colour-marked pathway that we trudge along from point A to B; be it for a day or for longer, the trail is what gives us access to the wilderness and opens the door for us all to experience nature.

In the wilderness areas of Tasmania’s World Heritage Cradle Mountain in Australia, and similarly in Torres del Paine National Park in the Chilean part of Patagonia, trails have moments of delight that showcase the hands-on tactility of trail makers and caretakers. Yes, at times these pathways into the wild are just trails cut by those who have walked before us, but in many cases it’s the work of people who have been tasked with protecting the flora, or getting us across fjords and who happily work with the natural materials adjacent to the trail itself. In both Tasmania and Patagonia this material is wood.

Timbers of ten or more metres in length seamlessly floating over marshlands to protect the flora. Each lying end-to-end, with visible signs of matching knots and mirrored twists that tell the hiker that they’ve been split from the very same tree. Carved and scored logs that bridge watercourses and streams, providing hikers with essential grip. Short timber off-cuts placed side by side, almost to a level of detail that one would expect in a residential forest garden; they all bring the impact of the man-made trail just a little bit closer to nature.

The colours and staining blend with the fallen timbers of the forest. Their tonality and textures align with nature’s aesthetics, and the feeling underfoot fits with the surrounds. This touch on the landscape, while necessary, appears fittingly light and of its place.

Yes, the material may weather and break down, but that is the natural process of the immediate surroundings. It’s only appropriate that the craftsmen and women who work along these wilderness trails, with limited tools and materials they find on-site, choose to work with timber. And so they should, because as one checks the ground to ensure safe footing, as left follows right as we hike through nature, when we see and experience the use of timber we better appreciate the way humans have worked with nature to gain access to it.

Angus Bruce is Head of Landscape Architecture at Hassell.