I have been coming to these woods for a number of years now, and I know that I’ve arrived when I step into the peaceful atmosphere of the trees and the sounds of woodland birds and the stream running fast over stone.
Always I am amazed at the changes I see on every visit. Perhaps it is because I am so familiar with the place that I have become attuned to its subtle shifts – the processes of growth and disintegration; the ever-changing light, weather, ground conditions etc…. not to mention my own changing moods and perceptions.
Over the last couple of months, the changes have been even more astonishing. Early March saw us engulfed in heavy snow – very unusual – just as we were beginning to think Spring was on its way. It hardly ever snows here in this part of Devon, and I had never managed to get a single photo of the woods in snow. The challenge was irresistible…
I do not wish to talk about how, when trying to park the car, the back wheels somehow skidded over the edge of a little stone bridge… Suffice it to say, that I returned to the woods the following day for a second attempt. By then, much of the snow had melted with rain – but I had a good time and I got some pictures!
A mild morning in April, some wind high above. Alternating sunshine and showers, warm and cold.
Standing under a favourite tree, I was captivated by the newly emerged fresh green leaves sprouting all around on bare branches. I looked closely. I could see them growing! Tiny hairs around the edges of the leaves seemed to vibrate and shimmer in the sunshine. I watched the play of shadows projected through this soft new greenery, and as always, I relaxed and enjoyed the peace and quiet.
I noticed that everything was actually a little bit later than normal and decided this was probably caused by the unusual wintry weather we have been having recently.
May begins. After days of rainy weather, it was good to feel the warm sunshine seeping into my bones.
Arriving at the woods, I saw the sea mist beginning to creep through the trees – cool, grey, soft.
A blackbird singing nearby, a chorus of other woodland birds.
Putting on my backpack, I started to climb up a steep bank at the side of the track, telling myself it was a shortcut to where I wanted to go.
But it was slippery with mud and I kept sliding downwards again on hands and knees. Oh no! I grabbed sticks lying on the ground for support, but they just broke under my weight. I refused to return back down to the bottom again, so I hauled myself up inch by inch, tree by tree, hanging on to anything relatively strong and stable: big roots, low growing branches, fallen trees… What kept me going (apart from stubborn insistance) was the thought of sliding down the hill on my stomach, and landing at the feet of someone out for a nice woodland walk.
I reached the top, brushed myself down and regained my dignity. I stood looking across the valley below and watched the grey sea mist billowing in fast. The sun had by now completely disappeared. A cold wind got up.
Sheltered within the trees, I began to explore old half-forgotten haunts – fallen branches, trees decomposing, disintegrating into the ground, covered with thick green mosses and ferns – taking many casual shots with my phone as I went along.
I came out into a more open space, where I had made several works before, and was now spread all over with a mass of primroses and bluebells. Their beautiful subtle scent filled the air, and I lingered here for a long time. This was probably my favourite place in the woods. Why? Because I could see through the trees, right down the valley to the Atlantic beyond. Because it was quiet and secluded and familiar, and I knew all the trees and the lie of the land. And also, because it held deeply significant memories for me.
As I said, I have been coming to Bucks Valley Woods fairly frequently for several years, and I have enjoyed its endless changes and transformations, and the subtly shifting relationship I have with this peaceful place. Memories I am sure that I shall recall at the end of my days.
Now, it feels a particularly poignant time, as the continuing threat of ever-encroaching building development is fast becoming a reality. Already, even though the population of the local villages is extremely small, a large-scale academy school has been built at the edge of the woods, complete with extensive accompanying pipe-laying and road widening.
I feel sad that, the main thrust of our noisy, short-sighted culture gives so little value to the fundamental human need to connect fully with nature, to draw deep nourishment from walking silently among the trees, either alone or with a few congenial friends – and I wonder how much longer I shall arrive to the gentle sounds of the breeze in the treetops, the sparkling water in the stream and the songs of woodland birds high above.
I originally published this post on my Blogspot blog: ‘Yatooi Talk-Linda’. Yatooi is an international membership organisation dedicated to nature art. Use a Google search if you wish to find out more.