Almanac: Early morning mists in the old forest

Lockdown is lifted and we can journey into the ancient forest again.

An early start. On our short drive, the trees gradually reveal themselves in layers of green. The view is softened; we are watching the day form itself into shape.

The mist feels like a fine spring rain, yet suspended in mid air. The humidity is soothing to the skin.

My little daughter holds up her hands to catch the dew falling from the canopy above every time there is sudden breeze.

The clearing beside my favourite oak tree is now verdant with bright uncurling bracken. We are the only ones here. Just us seven and a chorus of birdsong; a wood pigeon questions and from a distance another answers. Directly above us a squabble results in a few feathers falling at our feet. My daughter picks one out of the soft damp ground, now-grubby fingers holding it skywards as if to offer it back to the owner.

We follow the path as it dips down. I look up to see the mist suspended above the canopy, obscuring the sky.

A few steps ahead, my daughter picks her way carefully over raised roots. She pauses and attempts to lift one, not yet understanding that these unmoving “twigs” belong to the giant trees that surround us.

Here in the lower part of the forest, the morning dew has settled on the foliage. Some small woodland resident passes by us unseen, brushing against the undergrowth, sending the droplets cascading to the ground.

Ivy clings to the trees and between its leaves there is a network of fine cobwebs. More adventurous spiders have swung from tree to tree to spin threads across our path, now shimmering in the early light. I try and duck beneath them, letting them stay in place a little longer.

Do I breathe this deeply and gladly at any other time? It is soon after this walk that we get into the habit of opening the doors and windows of our home every morning when we wake, to welcome in the fresh dawn air.

My daughter is beguiled by the foxgloves that tower above her. She draws ever closer to what she calls “bells” though goes no further as she heeds my gentle warning to leave the toxic flowers be.

We hike up a small track in the fern covered hillside to the forest’s highest point. My eldest son holds up low branches of holly for his little sister to walk safely beneath. We hear distant road traffic, other voices in the forest. A man walks his dog on the footpath below us.

The light has changed since we set out and the world is awake.

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Almanac: Leafy canopies, wild flowers and a woodland glade

A late afternoon in April. It is the hour of long shadows and changing light; the best time to see the hidden glade. A gentle breeze drifts across the farm fields as we make our way towards the woodland.

In comparison to the areas of ancient forest nearby, our local wood is small, only 30 hectares, but still feels big enough to enclose you. I could imagine myself utterly lost here, yet know that ten minutes’ walk towards any compass point will see me safely back to the fields.

The bluebells have blossomed. Amongst them pheasants roost and several times now one has startled and taken flight right beside us in a flap of feathers.

Wood anemones flourish closer to the main pathways, upturned to the sunlight as if they would catch every drop.

From the shadier corners of the woodland’s edge, red campions dazzle.

Never forget to look upwards. I remain fascinated by the silent language of trees, how the canopy allows all to get their share of light. The branches of one tree will strive not to touch those of another. Deciduous trees are companionable, they seem to be working together so that none are crowded out.

To the glade then. Throughout the colder months, the lofty branches shade a shallow mirror pool that reflects the leaves above. When spring comes, and the water drains away, it transforms into a rich glade of tufted grasses and wild flowers. This is my favourite time to visit, as the late afternoon sun shines down like a spotlight.

I concentrate on the birdsong, as the wind ripples through the oak, ash, wild cherry and hazel. I breathe in the greenness, then close my eyes to feel the warmth of the sun on my eyelids; forest bathing in the now-empty pool.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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