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Forest Roamings

April 9, 2011

During my childhood and teenage years, I spent most of my weekends wandering and playing in forests. From a big forest-like park to a small swampy forest with a pond and a cave that I never dared to enter, and then to a large floodplain forest. For the last years, the only forest within walking distance was a boring little copse poisoned by memories of walks with a hated teacher, which drove me to bike out over the hills and through the villages to another forest, to a wooded hill that was always in view but never ‘mine’ the way those other forests were.

It was always my best friend’s forest to me – she lived near it, and it was with her father and their crazy cat-who-thought-he-was-a-dog that I first visited that other forest. Toni and Lucky are both dead now, but this forest still holds their memory. Lucky on his leash, Toni making jokes and showing us how to suck the nectar from deadnettle flowers… the way other people raise their glasses, I still raise my deadnettle flowers to his memory.

The forest holds their memory, and it also still holds the magic of those first few visits, scrambling up a steep slope, walking along a narrow ridge, periwinkle covering the hillside, sneaking past the beehives…

With and without Toni and Lucky, my best friend and I visited that forest many times, but we rarely left the paths we knew, always the same route up to the playground and back home.

It wasn’t until two years ago that I first went there by myself, and set out to explore, and even then, I only did that once. But this year, I’ll try again. I’m definitely more motivated this year – more motivated just by the thought of exploring, of walking paths I’ve never walked before, up the hill and down the other side, soaking up sunshine, birdsong, spring smells and flowers, but also by the idea of finding berry patches to visit again in summer. Motivated enough to get up early on a Sunday morning rather than catching up on my sleep as I’d been planning all week, motivated enough to struggle up a hill on my bike – an effort more than made up for by the pleasure of whizzing down the other side with the wind pulling at my hair and clothes. Motivated enough to cut that pleasure short, to stop just a little way down the hill, chain the bike to a tree and continue on foot.

Up along a winding little stream at first, among wood anemones and the spring-bright leaves of hazels and bird cherries:

Then, leaving the main path, up a narrow track, up a steep slope, into the spruce forest, among the tall columns of the tree trunks, the needle-covered ground almost bare of undergrowth. Just a few unrolling fern fronds, a few patches of moss and wood sorrel. The wind, the birdsong further away in the high treetops. The forest quieter, calm… solemn, I could not help thinking. Like a cathedral, were the words that came to mind, but I would never feel as comfortable, as peaceful, in an actual cathedral.

All too soon I came out to a place where the trees had been cut down, and from there to a path through a much younger forest, birches on one side, larches on the other – I love the bright green of their young leaves and needles! I also saw something I’d only read about so far – somebody had tied jars to the birches to collect the sap. I thought about sneaking a taste, but there were dead insects floating in it, and while I don’t mind the occasional floating insect, I prefer mine alive or very recently dead.

Down a different path – deep muddy tractor wheel ruts – back into spruce forest…

Despite all the care I took, I did end up with one foot sinking into the mud. But oh well – better my foot than my face, right? And there was a stream close by, so I climbed down the grassy slope to wash my foot and sandal.

Past another logged patch, with a little cabin that I assume is for the workers – I’m quite sure it’s not legal to live in the forest, though I’ve always wished I could – and a view of the hills beyond the river:

Looking back to where I came from, amused by the clear distinction between the deciduous and still bare forest and the spruce forest:

Down into beech forest, close enough to hear the traffic on the road at the bottom of the hill, unsuccessfully trying to get a picture of the glimpses of the river I got through the trees…

Back up the hill, away from the people walking, jogging and biking on that path, wandering along pretty paths and musing that maybe this was what drew me to reading fantasy… in many fantasy books, forests still have something … majestic, are still untouched by humans, free of the scars of wheel ruts and felled trees, free of mountain bikers and nordic walkers… musing about how many people complain about the ‘boring’ landscape description in the Lord of the Rings, but I never minded them – if anything, I wished I could be there…

Coming close to the road again, close to other people, and turning away again, seeking the quietness, the solitude, back up the hill, past an anthill that I heard long before I saw it – how can such little animals make such noise? – fighting my way through the brambles when the path disappeared, and then finding it again, making my way back down the hill past puddles full of frog spawn in the wheel ruts…

A last moment to stop and look around, listen to the birds a little more, to hear a woodpecker and the songs of many birds I can’t name – I even heard a few that day that I’d never heard before – and then the last of the way down the hill and back to my bike, to struggle back up to the top of the hill, and then – wheeee! – race down all the way on the other side, giggling and squealing, and finally return home…

***

A week has gone by since, and I’m sure so much has grown since then – oh, how I long to go exploring again! I would have gone today if I hadn’t been so out of food it just wasn’t funny any more, and by the time I was done with shopping, it was already too late. Damn those adult responsibilites!

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Ginny Burton permalink
    April 10, 2011 03:15

    What about tomorrow? It’s Sunday and you don’t have to work, do you?

    • April 10, 2011 11:40

      I’ll probably go again today – not sure if I’ll go to the same forest, as it’s getting a bit late for that already, but definitely to some forest!

  2. April 10, 2011 15:19

    Beech forest…swoon!

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