Monday, 16 November 2015
Into The Trees
I went into the woods today. An Ancient Woodland. We didn't know each other, these trees and I, because it was off my usual stomping ground, so I made the usual polite request to enter, along with an introduction, a brief resume of me and what I was doing there.
Honestly, sometimes I feel I am more tree than girl. Especially of late. They seem to have reached out for me this year in ways more complex than I can express. I've always been drawn to trees and now I am starting to feel more at home in ancient woodlands than anywhere else.
This one is just about holding off the threat of new housing and ring roads. For all that, thousands of new houses will be built next year all along its edges. Thousands of new people may come to use it for recreation. Thousands of new dogs may begin to walk along its paths and run through its undergrowth, plunge into its ponds and in so doing cloud the water, disturb the soil and rake up the vegetation, making it certain that Great Crested Newts (or any other) will never live there.
Tracks and rides around the wood will be graveled in a brave attempt to mitigate the potential for destruction all these new people bring. In an attempt to keep them to paths and prevent them wandering into sensitive ecological areas where birds may be attempting to nest and raise young, butterflies to lay eggs, caterpillars to feed or beetle larvae to survive. Without the gravel, the tracks will turn to mud and expand ever-outwards into the margins of the woodland as people try to avoid getting their feet wet, and by so doing trample the violets that the endangered Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterfly needs to feed on, or the Devil's Bit Scabious that the even more endangered Marsh Fritillary butterfly requires, or perhaps the ancient woodland indicator plants like wood anemone, bluebell and dogs mercury which have been growing there undisturbed for five hundred years or more.
To get to this wood, you turn off the motorway and pass through a land of shiny new office blocks made of smooth, glinting green and silver glass. It seems incongruous that somewhere near here, somewhere very near here, is an ancient wood. You travel along new roads congested with parked cars. You go past a new housing estate and over a handful of roundabouts and then suddenly, quite unexpectedly, you turn off and there it is: the path into the woods opens up before you with a wooden gate, remnant of another age, standing across it to prevent cars accessing it.
You step into the wood, among the trees and instantly all the sounds of man cease. They could be a thousand miles away. The timelessness of forests wraps itself around you and you simply forget about the way our days are divided into hours and minutes and seconds. Instead, you track the sun, or the shadows it casts and you listen to the voices of birds that tell you whether it is morning still or that afternoon has come. The whole world of man fades completely.
Nuthatches squeak from the boughs of an ancient oak; the liquid song of a Robin wells up from the depths of a beech; a Wren sings her heart out from among the branches of a hawthorn; a bee, unexpectedly, flies past my ear and heads towards an area of new coppice where Rough Hawkbit still blooms and the nests of violet leaves poke out of the leaf litter; a Comma floats down the path and drifts up to a pine where it rests, wings open to catch the remnants of the sun.
I imagine this place in summer- the oaks and sallow tell me that this is a land of Purple Emperors. The strands of honeysuckle twining delicately among the branches whisper of White Admirals. The whole feel of the wood with its ancient trees and open grassy rides sing of Silver Washed Fritillaries and Longhorn Beetles.
I will return, perhaps, when the year has turned and the warmth and green leaves have come again. I will come back to see the butterflies, to look for beetles and hoverflies. But by then the houses will have been built and the wood may no longer be quite so free of the world of man - you may need to go ever deeper to escape it, and perhaps I will find that too hard, too sad, and so I will stay away and cherish instead the memory of this place from a time when it seemed to me so wild and free and ancient.