17 August 2001 a city forest

19:36 As I look about - at these trees and green leaves against grey clouds and blue sky, at the brown leaves already fallen and crumpled - and as I hear and imagine the city that surrounds this protected forest* with its blackberry bushes and wild birds and small animals, and the people who enjoy it as I do ... as I take in and imagine all this, and more, I realise that its surprising wildness is exceeded only by its artificiality, in that its presence, and mine in it, is maintained at immense cost, a triumph perhaps of collective wisdom despite the fortunes that could be rapidly gained by cutting down the trees and building on it. But thanks to the romantics of the nineteenth century, reacting against the materialism of industry and in favour of the materialism of nature (and without help from religion?), this empty heathland (which became spontaneous forest) has been preserved and is alive and is becoming more wild (in the sense of being more forested) year by year (apart from the resisted efforts of its guardians to cut down trees and to clear undergrowth**).

As I wrote that long paragraph (or connecting thought) I was thinking also of what I am presently reading of that enormous and perhaps harsh effort of Friedrich Nietzsche to expose false goodness in religion and in humanism and to put the 'eternal return' of imperfect nature (which includes people and cities, bad or good) in the place of that false goodness of 'gentle Jesus' and in the idealism of Plato and his Republicand other fictions. (But this is a fiction also!)

How do these fine and terrible things relate?

I will try to answer that question when I get back. For the moment I feel it is more urgent and more important to record that, while I was writing, a solitary rabbit was eating grass about twenty metres from the seat where I am sitting - and now two Dalmatians pass close to my legs. 'Beautiful dogs' I say to the man whom they lead/follow. 'When they behave themselves - yes' he replies, and walks on.

It's getting dark. I walk towards the rabbit and it moves back a short distance. I return to the seat to record that. Now the rabbit is sitting up listening to something - and now another one runs towards me from the undergrowth. I guess this is the time when they feel safer. There is no one else about.

The pervasive but gentle sounds of the planes that return each evening to Heathrow are nearly continuous now but the rabbits and the trees don't seem to be affected at all.

Yes I feel closer than ever before to understanding the 'mystery' of nature-and-artifice (which is which?). But I am now barely able to see the words, so I'll stop... To be sitting and writing in a forest in the dusk - I like it. I'm reluctant to go.

Someone is whistling and calling for a dog - a tame animal. I can't see the rabbits now but I think they are still sitting in the grass in front of me.

It's 20:50. I've been writing for more than an hour.

I drink from the plastic bottle of tap water I've brought and I see a largish bat for less than a second against the sky.

The night life of a forest, in a city, continues!

*To walk all round the edge of Hampstead Heath is about seven kilometres. More than half of it is fairly wild forest intersected by paths, some being of gravel or tarmac and some being spontaneous footpaths on bare earth. London is about fifty kilometers from east to west and about thirty from north to south. The Heath is closer to the centre of the city than to its outer edge.

**The forested part has more than doubled in size by spontaneous growth in the twentieth century. In the nineteenth century much of it was open heathland, as in the watercolours of John Constable. Recently there was an official plan to thin the forest into open glades. It was strongly opposed by protestors (including myself!) who asked for it to be 'kept as it is' - which is now said to be the official policy.