After a day of gluttony, too much wine, zooming overload, no exercise, huddled by the fire while it bucketed down outside; I forced myself to venture out into the pale winter sun. Butterfly wellingtons, scarf covered in silvery trees, bereted in yellow-starred blue – because I am a European – I drove to Harrock’s Wood through roads with flooded dips. My secret wood, adjacent to Merlin’s wood: falconer’s bird or magician’s forest. I like to think the latter.
Straight away the wood embraced me. Filled me with its magic; light filtering from the sun, low in the December sky. Chased away my troubled early dreams. Ears strained to hear the whispering wisdom of the trees … splendid in their nakedness… above white noise of distant traffic. Constant now, unlike April’s lockdown. M25. Where are all those people essentially travelling to? Small birds sing unseen and a crow calls.
Squelching through mud, I followed new made paths over roots, and fallen branches, circumventing ancient trees, avoiding the worst of it. Some say the wood is bleak in winter, dull. Not true. They do not take time to stand and stare, soak up the secrets of its timeless cycles, notice what is there… hidden in plain sight. Each tree a living, breathing, sculpture. Unique, majestic, silhouetted ‘gainst the winter light. Branches stretch, bend and arch: fingertip skyward. Roots grounded in the earth. Individual spirits. They are my companions. Some are clad in scrambling ivy, some patterned with emerald moss. Tangles of roots, reveal sculpted trolls, frogs and monster claws. Ask any child. Some are multi trunked. Some hide fairy fungi, in tiny hollows. Some hold water, cupped in rough wooden bowls, above their stumps. Some are hung with Squirrels’ drays and empty nests.
Each tree, mighty oak, sweet chestnut, silver birch, sprawling holly, females beaded red, beech, wild cherry, assorted firs, all have their own tales to tell. The treescape is everchanging. On this day Bella had wreaked her fury. New fallen trees, uprooted, lie awkwardly on forest floor. Slender birch, white-skinned, shining silver in the light, lean precariously against other trees, which saved their fall.
Squirrels darted across my path, stopping to look for chestnuts, before scurrying up a tree. The chestnuts are mostly gone. Their prickly cases broken, dark and brown, amongst decaying leaves, some still streaked with gold. A robin led me part way through the wood hopping between the trees, perching on low branches. Two magpies flew above: an augury of joy and hope. So wrapped up in dreams, enveloped by trees, a jogger startled me. A catch of breath as he ran smiling past, bare legs spattered with mud. I glimpsed a deer, munch jack, flashing through a thicket.
There were dogs too, taking their owners for a walk, some with children in tow, and a young couple. All kind words and smiles, politely distancing. No phones. No rush. Mostly it was a solitary walk accompanied only by friendly ghosts talking, laughing, stopping with me to stand in awe, as they were wont to do. In these strange days, time seems to have lost its linear continuum. The past and present merge together.
Beneath the moss and bracken, beneath the earth I could sense new life stirring. The annual rebirthing of nature has already started. Soon new shoots will push their way upward like the snowdrops in my garden. The leaves of bluebells will poke up above the leaf mould.
I left the wood, at peace, grounded. It had wrapped me in its spirit, woven its magic, as it always does. In the Western sky, behind my back, the sun was sinking in a sky, watercolour blue, orange streaked with gold-lined clouds. And, to the East, a moon, nearly full, hung ghostly pale. Two kites circled above, scavengers of the skies. The future is uncertain but, the trees, the sun and moon, and kites will endure long after the earth has shaken us off. I am certain of that.