It’s time to visit our spring woods. ‘Past thought miracles are there and beyond numbers’ waiting for us to enjoy their ‘charms to sweeten solitude‘.
We’ve watched as the distant woods have been slowly changing colour from the dull winter greys to warmer browns and ochres – a sure sign that the sap is rising. The first cautious shoots of ash and hawthorn have braved the elements. Spring’s soft atmosphere and sense of anticipation has been growing. Distant views begin to be hidden by the fresh foliage and will remain hidden until autumn leaf fall.
There’s music in the air as bird song increases. Not quite full performance yet, that waits for early May’s delightful full-blown dawn chorus, but nearly into the dress rehursal at least. The individual soloists seem now to be practising their parts ready for May.
As we enter the wood we step back into a world of peace and serenity. Traffic and the other noises of modern life are left behind. The silence of this place calms us. It feels good to be here. As dry leaves crunch under our feet it startles a wood pigeon which flies off heavily flapping. A scolding squirrel in the branches with its drey nearby warns us off as we pass by reminding us that we are outsiders, the wood’s guests, As visitors we go carefully so that the wood may reveal some of its secrets to us. Everywhere there are the sensuous smells of the woodland—moist leaf litter, rotting fallen branches full of insects, damp moss, sweet smelling catkins, the strong odour of a fox.
‘They’re out in the woods!’
As soon as this news goes local, people flock to our nearby bluebell woods with cameras at the ready to capture this specially British spring magic, our May glory – The ‘Pride of the Woods’ in full display.
“Full many a flower, too, wishing to be seen,
Perks up its head the hiding grass between.-
In mid-wood silence, thus, how sweet to be;
Where all the noises, that on peace intrude,
Come from the chittering cricket, bird, and bee,
Whose songs have charms to sweeten solitude.
From John Clare’s ‘Hilly Wood‘
The Coppiced Wood
The bluebells apart, of all the wood’s magic at this season the most dramatic must be the traditional coppice. Sadly few of these are maintained these days as in the past. But those that were coppiced two years ago will, this year, have their own wonder as the woodland floor lights up in a display of plants and flowers that have been waiting for this moment. Lesser Celandines, Wood Anemones tossing their pure white heads gently in the breeze, the Dog Violet, host plant to the very rare Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterfly and the primroses.
Each wood and coppice has its own name showing that over the years people before us have valued and used these places. Coppicing was popular in Sussex in the past as is shown in the Ordnance Survey map with delightful local names such as Quaker’s Corner Copse, Hammerpot Copse and Goblestubb Copse.
The Trees are Dancing
The richness of a spring wood amazes us. We have a sense of being enveloped in the luxurious green of a ‘tree delighted Eden’. It seems as if the whole wood is dancing with life and indeed it is, as a time-lapse camera will demonstrate. Trees and the plants on the woodland floor move and sway gracefully in slow motion over the days as they seek for the light and follow the sun in a divinely choreographed ballet.
It all recalls for me that delightful moment in C.S.Lewis’ ‘Prince Caspian’ when the trees of the wood are dancing because Aslan has come to meet Lucy.
“Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth”. (From Psalm 96)
“There in the brakes of May Spring has her chambers,
Robing-rooms of hawthorn, cowslip, cuckoo flower –
Wonder complete changes for each square joy’s hour,
Past thought miracles are there and beyond numbers.”
From’Severn’ by Ivor Gurney
Woods have rhythms of their own. Natural woodland will always re-establish itself if given the chance. It’s as if the trees have an irrepressible desire to grow and make the most of spring with “Past thought miracles …. beyond numbers.” Yet another gift of spring has come and I want to enjoy and appreciate it with a grateful heart, thankful that “while earth remains, seed time and harvest, summer and winter will not cease.” (Genesis 8)
What’s happening in your neck of the woods?
Next Time ‘May’s Music – the Dawn Chorus’