Three walks I’ve taken in as many days. Previously unexplored spots, in and around the city.
And in none of them is there much in the way of graspable, narrative history on which to hang. The fictions and stories are possibly too broad, too vast or ephemeral to pluck at or re-work.
I don’t let it bother me. I find, if I go somewhere that has a strong and identifiable link to the past or to people who have trod the same paths, who have worked and altered the landscape or who have let the landscape work and alter them, then, yes, my mind is engaged, of course it is; but it often works a little too hard – distractingly so – to make connections and associations. I am happier without that sometimes.
It is often more rewarding.
All three spots were beech woods. One overwhelmingly so, the others a mix of deciduous trees, but still predominately beech. The spring is late and the trees are coming to leaf in stuttering out-of-step waves. There is a marked lack of accord. Some, with May just days away, have their leaf buds wrapped up tight. Even deep into the quiet calm, there are bare branches rubbing up against fully uncovered displays.
Always, I head to the centre of the wood. I like to lose the lighter sides, forget the borders, the traffic noise absorbed. Baker hated his human-ness when he strode out into the natural world. He wanted “to let the human taint wash away in emptiness and silence.” I cannot fault that, it is why I move into the middle of the wood and, once there, sit quietly. I can wait.
If you’re lucky the forest will fall back into place; gradually, it may reassert itself.
Above, a Sparrowhawk circles and then flies off. I catch it through the branches of the canopy like a zoetropic image, fragmented and brisk. It will not be back until I have long gone. But there are more forgiving and amenable attendants to the scene. Great Tits and Blue Tits percolate through the bushes and lower branches of the trees. Blackbirds and Thrushes hop through the fresh green of the woodland floor, garden birds, familiar birds, adding another layer to the wilder palimpsest. In the background, a Chiffchaff calls an insistent two-tone. Woodpigeons murmur and rumble.
Dancing, dipping through the trunks, speckled jewels bounce in the evening air and stick to the sides of trees. Treecreepers, fabulous mottled birds adept at clinging to the bark and hunting among the niches for ants and mites, prying with their long curved beaks. They skitter busily up and down, left and right, and then swoop off, to stick with dainty aplomb to another spot. Repeat to fade.
Dappled and displayed, a veil of white and yellow and purple flowers, their cycles forced into an overlapping, imbricating pattern of rich growth along the floor. Wood anemones, primroses, celandine and wood sorrel, they invade each others’ space for the best patches of sunlight. New growth folding over old.
But the wider territories of a bare Winter are slowly encroached upon. The woods fill in, and the shadows beneath a stronger sun are merge into a fertile musk. Another pattern lays over this.
The light is turning into amber, that almost tangible, thickened light that searches inquisitively into every fold and groove, each gather and socket, all the holes and layers and crinkles and creases. The evening light that lasts for minutes and is gone, not brash or bold, but golden and searching and magical. A story isn’t needed when the drama is as engaging as this.