Observations from the edge of the wood

At seven o’clock in the morning I emerge from the patchwork of woodland bordering Gunby Park. These stands of trees, interconnected by hedges and thickets, semi-wild, are undergoing a subtle metamorphosis as the early summer shifts almost imperceptibly to midsummer – a turning of the wood’s heart that only the silent can perceive.

The wild roses are in flower now. They form an impenetrable frieze next to the tunnel of undergrowth used as a path by the roe deer (and, every day, me). I reach out and pluck two rose petals, pop them between my lips, and chew – it’s a nostalgic, childhood taste. The beech’s early green has matured to a subdued emerald glimmer, dappling the woodland floor beneath with an ever-changing bokeh as old as time. This is my favourite place to pause for a moment and observe. Only two weeks before, the nettles just over there were a different colour and texture too, their stems not quite overcrowding the carpet of pink, white and yellow flowers at my feet; now they’re dominant, fighting the bracken in this place starved of sunlight by the great trees high above.

In the beechmast at the tree’s table, the nubbin of a mushroom pokes up to meet the air, perhaps coaxed forth by the rains and the cool temperatures. Around me, grass pollen kicks up in a ground haze with every step. I marvel at how the pollen can so easily escape the heavy dew on each grasshead.

The midsummer shift feels like an unhurried tipping over from manic activity to sleep. Spring is a flight, a race; this is the slow business of everyday growth, the gradual burnishing of colours, the flash of the rabbit’s tail in his maze, the arched wings of the buzzard over the flood-bloated corpse of a crow (a crow that, only a week before, I’d helped to the side of the path even though I knew a broken wing surely doomed it). If spring is startled wakefulness, in midsummer the wood dreams, and the echoes of that dream sometimes reach the mind of the silent and perceptive watcher.

As always, a moment of careful observation at this place yields more detail than I could ever see or record. A year before I’d have marched right past this moment with my earbuds in, listening to an audiobook or a podcast, thoughts numbed to oblivion. It took me a long time to realise that this wood holds far more importance to me than anything I could learn over a headphone wire in the 75 minutes it takes me to walk from my front door to this place and then back again.

Tomorrow, the beech’s leaves will be a different shade of emerald, the flowers in the meadow forming new patterns that will never again reform in exactly the same way. I can’t see everything, but I can try to see something, and that’s enough.

By Alex Roddie

Award-winning outdoor and nature writer, editor, author, and photographer.


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