Hidden Kingdoms: In search of the invisible

In summer, the little woodland becomes a dark and shaded place. Leaves grow with such veracity that the canopy above lets in less light than any other time of the year.

I share today’s walk with my 12 year old son. It is so quiet here. Sudden rustles of foliage or scraping on bark reminds us that we are sharing this space with many unseen creatures. At any such sound, we immediately pause. A shared inquisitive glance asks the silent question “what was that?”

Ripples of bright light dance across the forest paths as the clouds float by, unseen, overhead. My eyes never quite adjust to this constant change. My vision is a little blurred, settling somewhere ethereal. I feel the slight twinge of my pupils widening and then hurriedly dilating over and over. Hands shielding our eyes, we veer off the footpath in search of softer, diffused shade.

We follow the trails of badgers until we find ourselves barred by brambles and start retracing our steps. Here, away from the footpath, are signs of the woodland’s hidden life. A mouse hole. An abandoned bird’s nest caught between low branches. A tuft of coarse grey fur caught on a blackberry thorn. It is easy to step away from the path, but having taken a winding route, it is more difficult to find our way back. In a small woodland, this disorientation is wonderful. How glorious to feel momentarily lost when we live in a land of tarmac roads and mobile satnav. We are soon back in well-trodden sign-posted normality.

There is no breezy, springtime forest now; the air is stiflingly humid, like a Kew Glasshouse. When the path dips low, we often hurry on, feeling a little dizzy from the lack of air. At other times we stand under a rare gap in the canopy and gulp in lungfuls’s of air greedily. There is a particular greenwood smell that fills us with life like pure oxygen.

Overhead, branches twist and turn, seeking the daylight. My son and I like to spot the silhouettes of letters hidden in the leaves. Aptly, the canopy that casts shade over our favourite sketching bench forms a little “S” to mark the spot.

From above, to below. Crouching down, a whole other world opens before us. At the level my one year old daughter sees, rain drops perch like tiny globes. Is this why children see magic everywhere?

Throughout the woodland, there are imaginary worlds to discover, if you allow your eyes to roam and imagination to wander. Whenever my little daughter joins me on my daily walk, she sees mouse towers and castles everywhere. She calls down into gnarled holes in the bark to inhabitants within and joyfully points out steps and entranceways.

My daughter will also knock politely on tree trunks, because she is convinced squirrels live inside and will come out to play if cordially invited. On one walk I spot a tiny mushroom that looks so alike a miniature door handle that for a moment I think she might be right.

Finally, there are the microscopic habitats that our eyes are just not adapted to spotting. The craggy volcanoes and tropical jungles that form entire worlds … all on the top of an old tree stump.

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49 Comments

  1. What a wonderful walk (and photos). I feel your sense of awe and mystery as to the invisible inhabitants around you. The child in me shares your children’s imagination. I wish I was there instead of sitting in my desk chair reading about your walks in nature.

    1. Thank you very much Vicki … I’m, glad you are able to join us, even if it’s only virtual 🙂 The tricky bit is getting back indoors to write it all down, it’s so easy to be outside all day at the moment as we’re getting some very rare summer sunshine x

      1. You almost need a tiny old-fashioned cassette recorder to ‘voice some notes’ on the walk, but that would detract from the sheer spontaneity and fun of the walk and divert the children’s attention from adventure and discovery.

        1. That’s an interesting thought …. I might have to try this when I am out walking alone. I do take a little notebook/sketchbook with me but I have never thought to record my voice 🙂

          1. If you can find one, then perhaps it’s worth the effort (of getting a cassette player). One of the reasons why I don’t blog every day now is that I can’t remember the details of my past nature walks, (except by looing at the photos I took that day which jog my memory somewhat). Since I’m reliant on photos from my archives to share online now, I really need multiple images to create a storyline. I’m a visual person but do have health conditions which affect my memory and cognitive function. I’m at my best in the mornings, so that’s when I use my computer.

  2. Oh to see through the eyes of a child. How wonderful, knocking on trees, to invite squirrels to come out and play and seeing mouse towers everywhere. I’m going to look more carefully on my walk today!

    1. Hello 🙂 Yes! My daughter is currently at that lovely stage where every flower or rock has to be inspected … it’s a great reminder to me to pause and look about me x

  3. A magical post incorporating the children’s different eye levels. Just one example of your liquid language is ‘in search of softer, diffused shade.’ Lovely photographs, too.

    1. Thanks so much Sandra – we were only saying today that even our little garden is a huge adventure to our toddler daughter, as all of the cottage garden flowers tower way above her 🙂

  4. “It is easy to step away from the path, but having taken a winding route, it is more difficult to find our way back.”
    True of many things in life, and this would make an excellent line in a book. Great that you have a green kingdom to explore.

    1. Ah thank you Laurie … I am trying very hard to look through the 30,000+ words of my little website and find the story arc within! I am sure there must be a book hidden in there somewhere 🙂

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