Saturday, 17 October 2009

Light and shade

The clearance of a large block of mature pine has changed the mood of the piece of secondary woodland through which I walk most mornings. The wood had always been a dark and brooding place, surrounded as it was by ranks of alien conifers. The darkness was intense, pressing up against the narrow path that ran in a straight line towards the faint glow of a more open forest ride at its end. The wood also carried a stillness, fathoms deep and broken only by the occasional call of a Robin or the scuttling feet of a Grey Squirrel as it scrambled up a nearby trunk, alarmed at my arrival.

With so many blanketing conifers removed, much of the wood now feels light and airy, the path seems wider and the whole place less threatening. The additional light has stirred ground vegetation and this spring there was a carpet of green, a rush of life quick to claim the newfound source of light and warmth. More birds have appeared; Song Thrushes which raised a brood of chicks, encountered early one morning sat about the path, undeterred by my arrival and choosing instead to beg for food. The parents would have done well here this spring, the damp ground of the shaded rides providing access to an abundance of invertebrate food and a plentiful supply of banded snails for when the heat of summer made other invertebrates harder to find.

Several Chiffchaffs set up territories along the edge of the wood, their onomatopoeic song one of the first signs of a bountiful spring. Now, in early October, extended parties of tits (with the occasional Chiffchaff or Goldcrest in tow) can be seen passing through the wood, searching for food among the branches and those leaves that have yet to turn and drop in the first of the autumn’s storms. Two Roe Deer hang about the edge of the wood most mornings, moving quickly away to what they perceive to be a safe distance before turning to watch me pass. They are inquisitive animals, rarely disappearing blindly, and I like to see them about the forest. To me, they seem more ‘deer-like’ than the squat, dog-sized forms of the introduced Muntjac that are present in greater numbers.

A sense of the old wood remains, where it butts up against the block of plantation too young to cut, but my feelings towards this shadowy presence have changed. It is no longer threatening or unknown but a welcome pool of darkness in a now more open landscape. Writers sometimes describe the balance of light and shade, relating how one enhances the other; here in the wood I have come to understand what they mean.

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