Friday, 17 August 2012

A forest palette

The patches of clear-fell are coming into their own now. Several seasons on from when the conifers were harvested, the ground cover has now developed into a sward that, although dominated by grasses, contains a diversity of colours and forms. The sward’s colour palette is definitely slipping towards autumn though, the flowering grass heads now faded to take on pale golden hues. Here and there the rich yellow of ragwort stands strident, balanced by the pale blues and soft purples of vipers bugloss and vetch.

Although the sward looks dry and brittle, it is still heavy with moisture from overnight rain and my trousers are quickly soaked, much like the dogs that follow at my heel along the narrow track that snakes back towards the road. The strong, almost acrid scent of a fox hangs on the air, proving that it is still around even though I have not seen it for several weeks. The dogs note its passing too, an audible sniff as two heads drop to the ground and cast around.

A moth, pale in colour and heavily worn skips up from the path before I can identify it and is away across the broken ground. In the distance, a line of beech fringes the road, a veneer of deciduous woodland in a landscape dominated by regimented lines of conifers. Beneath the beeches it is dry, there is no sward here despite the thin canopy that casts a soft green light onto the ground below. I like these beeches; they remind me of home and of the great beech hangers of my youth. The silvery-grey trunks reach up towards the canopy and the spacing of the trees gives a sense of being inside some airy outdoor cathedral. This sense is heightened by the stillness of the air and the early morning calm: no traffic, no planes and little bird song at this late season.

Even though I rarely vary my route, these early morning walks seem ever changing thanks to light, season and weather. You get a real sense of place by visiting the same site over time, learning its changing moods and responding to them subconsciously. Right now, the forest is calming and there is a sense of timely transition from summer into autumn. The forest smells autumnal and the early morning mist, an increasing feature of these autumn mornings, hints at the days that lie ahead. Some say that we’ll get an Indian Summer, one last hoorah to round off a summer of celebration, but I am not sure that it will feel right. The transition from summer to autumn is a gradual process and, judging by how the forest feels, it has already started.

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