Our Sussex bluebell woods will soon be at their spring best, but they’re likely to be unvisited this year. Yet we need the healing powers of nature in an unspoiled Eden more than ever now.
Our Bluebell Woods
Our human world groans seeking solace in a familiar comforting spring. Buds and blossom bursting with promise, birds busy nesting, bring a feeling of hope that ‘the world’s still working’. Soon our woods will be awash with blue ‘lakes’ of bluebells, their silent nodding bells sending out a melody of joy as their sweet scent drifts through our woods. Who can fail to catch the spirit of such an exuberance of spring superabundance – ‘all in a rush of richness’.
This year it seems it will have to be a performance without an audience, with blue bells giving of their best with no one to watch.
The healing power of nature
Britain has half of the world’s bluebell woods. Many of the best of them are found here in Sussex. They’re an indicator of old woodland.
Our native bluebell is full of simple charm. It coyly hangs its sweetly scented heads so much more gracefully than the brash invasive Spanish cousin found in so many gardens.
Out in the natural world there are sometimes moments when our spirit is awakened to see something of the hidden world, as the handiwork of the Creator is revealed. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins records such a moment of ‘transfiguration’ here:
“One day when the bluebells were in bloom I wrote the following. I do not think I have ever seen anything more beautiful than the bluebell I have been looking at. I know the beauty of our Lord by it. It is full of strength and grace,”From Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Journal
God has endowed nature with great healing powers. Left alone, free of human interference, it can restore itself. It can also calm and heal us.
A reverence for nature
I can well remember the rather sickening sight of picked bluebells strewn about on a woodland path and the plants themselves trampled by thoughtless, clumsy human feet. Worse was seeing in the hedgerow a sign of devastation where some other children have discovered a bird’s nest in the hedge and taken the eggs, trampling down everything around in the process.
John Keats refers to this in his poem:
‘…Round which is heard a spring-head of clear waters,From ‘I stood tip-toe upon a little hill’:
Babbling so wildly of its lovely daughters,
The spreading blue-bells it may haply mourn
That such fair clusters should be rudely torn
From their fresh beds and scatter’d thoughtlessly
By infant hands, left on the path to die.’
On a trip out collecting autumn hazel nuts William Wordsworth comes across a section of hedgerow untouched and unspoiled :
‘Until at length I came to one dear nookFrom the poem ‘Nutting’
Unvisited, where not a broken bough
Drooped its withered leaves, ungracious sign
Of devastation, but the hazels rose
Tall and erect, with milk-white clusters hung,
A virgin scene !’
The poet first wonders at the unspoiled beauty of the spot, but then sees the hazel bushes full of tempting ripe nuts. He harvests these with glee pulling down the higher branches to reach the nuts and fill his bag. But as he returns triumphant in his harvest success a twinge of guilt comes on him:
‘Even then, when from the bower I turned away,
Exulting, rich beyond the wealth of kings
I felt a sense of pain when I beheld The silent trees and the intruding sky,-
Then dearest Maiden move along these shades
In gentleness of heart; with gentle hand
Touch, – for there is a Spirit in the woods.‘
Leave no traces.
Take only photos and memories of a quiet place.
G.K.Chesterton once said; “Nature is not our mother, but our sister”. Through creation we are both siblings and we need each other. Nature needs our love, respect and care. In return a restored, unspoiled Eden can bring healing to our human spirits. In our present crisis we need this more than ever. What’s been happening on the Knepp estate here in Sussex is a most encouraging sign of hope for a better future.
Next time join me as I rise early to meet the wonder of the Dawn Chorus again.