I went into the woods on Sunday. M was running in a race and I had an hour to spare. It wasn't a wood I know well, so I had a little chat with the trees first, by way of an introduction, before slipping among the branches.
This is an old, old wood. It has been here for well over a thousand years: unhurried, slow-growing, certain. It is a place of gnarled holly groves and the twisted arms of oaks and beech thrown up in supplication. The paths that navigate through it belong to the creatures who live here, they whose ancestors roamed the leafy roads long before mankind came. It is cocooned, deep and soft with the accumulated leaf litter of the centuries.
I didn't go far, but you don't need to. A hundred yards or so and you are lost in a world of trees that deadens the sound of Man and suppresses all knowledge of time. It could have been a thousand years ago, for very little can have changed in the wood since then. There aren't many places you can stand and imagine yourself in another time so completely and with such little effort.
As I stood still and silent, listening to the trees breath, I became aware of the soft sounds of the wood and it's many small, gentle movements. A Robin flew down to the ground and drew up a worm. A Wren darted up a tree trunk and then bobbed along a branch, pausing to watch me in that openly curious way of theirs. Slowly, deer crept out of the undergrowth and, cautious, reticent, paused on the edge of the clearing, watching, waiting, sensing. Evidently concluding that I wasn't a threat they moved out into the open, nibbled a little at the grass, crossed the path and were swallowed into the forest again.
Time moves differently in Woods. I glanced at my watch, expecting twenty or so minutes to have passed and realised it was more than double that. I was about to head back when a group of ponies came clattering suddenly through the undergrowth. Their agitation caused the air in the wood to tighten suddenly, as if drawing its secrets back into itself. Heads flung up, nostrils flaring, the tension in the sinews of the ponies' muscles broke the silent spell of the woodland.
They ran on through the trees and a second later the deer reappeared. Not slow and cautious now - they burst from cover, fled across the clearing as if the Devil were at their heels, and tore back into the unsettled trees. Blackbirds began pinking in alarm, a Magpie jarred his warning and a Woodpecker screamed out danger. The Robin disappeared and the Wren bobbed once and vanished. The air in the wood churned in agitation as Time came rushing back.
The cause? The first of the runners was returning home through the trees.
I had the same sense of timelessness standing in our woods this morning, listening to the trees breathing. There has been a wood on this site since at least the 1400s, but I suspect it is much, much older. The trees and I have whispered conversations of The Wildwood, that place that existed after the Ice Retreated before people came. We know each other well. It is friend, confidant and adviser.
While the dogs were off exploring and I was standing beneath the Elder, mourning the passing of the old apple tree which has been cut back somewhat harshly (but I trust the intention, because I know the human Guardian of this wood is wise in Forest Lore), a Marsh Tit appeared, perched in a branch above my head and sneezed in a friendly manner a few times before flying off towards the stand of pines. A Wren called out from the Sweet Chestnut tree on the bend in the path where the owl box is and Nuthatches squeaked to one another conversationally as they tapped acorns into holes in the Oak. In the new coppice a Robin sang, the liquid notes pouring joyfully into the misty air of a late October morning.
Back home, and it seems the whispered prayer I sent to the Oak Trees for a Merveille Du Jour late last night was heard. Beautiful.
Hope you're all well?