Sunday, 18 May 2014

If you go down to the woods today ...

May on the banks of the river Cole
We decided to take a rare trip out of the city this evening because the weather and the abundance of May blossom has been so lovely. We thought we'd go for a walk in a wood south of the city, where I have led quite a few contemplative walks for different groups.
me in the woods planning a contemplative walk

I only do such walks in places where I already know the location well, and where I have spent time getting to know individual trees. They become personalities along the way, their living presence an essential part of the dynamic, rather than simply objects or specimens of botanical interest.

Here are some photos of the wood from previous years, at around the same time of year:

A mature birch

Hawthorn blossom
What a beautiful place! Birds sing, sometimes a muntjac deer appears, it has been a place for me to retreat to for a few hours peace away from the city, for some years, and I have been glad to guide others around it to share some of that peace and healing greenery.
A venerable oak among bluebells

While I appreciate that woodland management by necessity involves clearing patches of growth and felling trees for use and for the greater good of the whole, and also appreciate that some trees are grown to be harvested, and while I am also grateful that the landowner in question allows access on their land at all, which is partly why I haven't named the wood, I was a little taken aback to find that a whole bank of hawthorn where only a year or two ago I had stood and invited people to walk under a natural bridge of frothing blossoms, had completely disappeared, even the roots, leaving a large patch of bare earth. To the right, where once a tall willow stood, and where many a contemplative has laid down their troubles before proceeding further into the wood, was nothing but a misshapen stump.

Going further, we walked past pile upon pile of straight trunks, piled ready - I presume - for collection and use - birches, oak and ash, especially. The sight was understandable, given that woods have a history of such relationship with humanity,  but nevertheless the place felt rather forlorn. I was glad I had not been there earlier; the sound of chainsaws goes right through me.

the sought-for beech
After a while, we came to another 'special' stump. When I was getting to know this wood, some years ago, I was keen to find a beech tree and wandered round for a long time until I found one - just a young tree, claiming its patch of sunlight, amidst the busy canopy of oaks and ashes. I was fond of this tree, as I am of beech in general, and was quite shocked this evening to find it cut down.
 I stood on its base and imagined the sap that used to rise up its strong trunk, joyously skywards, rising still, entering the soles of my feet, flowing, living ...

just beyond, the remains of the tree lay tidily stacked into trunk and branches. I could not understand why this tree in particular, had to be felled, or indeed how anybody could bring themselves to do such a thing; it was beautiful and now it's broken.

I suppose there's some irony in the whole thing really; here am I, a city-dweller looking for an evening's peace in a lovely location, a location I identify as restful, spiritual, conducive to contemplation, and walking into what, for somebody else, is a working environment. The romanticism diminishes a little. The 'spirit' of the place is imprinted with caterpillar tracks and piles of logs, the air still recovering from the screech of machinery - but this is reality, it is part of the cycle of death, decay and regeneration. It is an illustration of human engagement with the environment - managing, exploiting, hopefully making good, but certainly making use of. It reminds me of the time I chose to visit a recently deceased relative's grave for my own private thoughts, hours after the funeral, only to find a miniature JCB on top of it. C'est la vie, as they say.

But the thing is, having made this 15 mile expedition out of the city in our little (65 miles to the gallon) car, having increased our carbon footprint by some fraction in our hunger to commune with nature, we concluded that we may as well have gone for a walk from our own doorstep, as we did the evening before, because in fact, densely populated area of a large city though it is, the riverbank here is actually very beautiful and very well looked after.
back to the river Cole footpath

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