Friday, 9 December 2011

A changing palette

It’s early, though only if you judge the day by the time of its dawn. These short late autumn days give me longer in bed in the morning, the dogs stilled by the lingering dark outside, but soon after first light I am out in the forest. In many ways these December mornings are richer, the colour palette firmly based in deep blues and a raft of browns now that the dominant greens of summer have been sloughed. Although weakened, there is enough strength in the rising sun to draw out the tanned chestnut browns of the beech and soft yellows of the birch, leaves that have clung so late this year.

On days when rain waits in close approach the sky is a deep paynes grey. This dramatic backdrop frames the stand of beech, less than a dozen trees deep, that separates the forest block from the road beyond. The air is damp and holds within it the richly rounded scents of earth and wood. The resinous smell of freshly cut pine reveals some recent felling, a windblown giant cleared from the main track. At my feet, the rains from earlier in the week have rearranged the soil’s surface. A dark, serpentine shape has been revealed, as water has found the path of least resistance, carrying off the lightest grains of fine sand to expose the darker, more solid geology beneath.

Elsewhere in the forest, on the scruffy triangle of land where the Willow Warblers had their nest, the bracken has collapsed upon itself in a great seething mass. Its rough undulations give the appearance of a flooding torrent, swollen with browns of varying shades. Where the bracken has grown up through the scattered hawthorn it takes on a more dynamic form, appearing as waves of decaying fronds breaking up against the hawthorn.

On the duller mornings the colour palette is much reduced, pared back to simple tones: soft brown and charcoal predominate. The landscape feels flat and, at times, almost two-dimensional. On other mornings, when dawn breaks following a clear night, frost tints the forest white. The once straw-brown stems of grass now glisten. Fallen branches from which the bark has been lost take on the appearance of polished bone. Curiously, the presence of a light frost seems to enhance the few patches of green that remain. There is, it appears, some fresh growth even at this season; opportunistic plants that have exploited the unseasonal warmth. Even the grand conifers have toned down their greens, the bright green of summer growth now hardened into darker tones. It is a more brooding palette, one that suggests a land hunkered down and waiting. Come spring, the palette will change again.

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