The sound of breathing

shadowedAnother sunny – stripped back, soon to be spring – Sunday, another walk in the woods.  How English, how middle class can you get? I don’t care, sometimes the effort of stepping outside the stereotype just isn’t worth it. Especially not on a glorious day like this, cold, crisp and clear.  I’m conscious of a definate sense of anticipation as I lace up my walking (and slithering, sliding, jumping in puddles and squelching deliciously through mud) boots.  Days like this, you just have to get out.

Having noticed a certain wintry open-ness to the landscape on the way over – no leaves, so you can see further, dead-looking laid hedges still sporting severe pre-spring trims, hardly any roadside scrub growth – I’m somewhat surprised by how much the wood retains that sense of density, of enclosure. Not as emphatic as it will be in summer, when everything’s in full growth, but it’s still striking.  Something to do with the large amount of Hazel scrub colonizing the ground space, and patches of evergreen, no doubt.

At the moment it’s like being able to examine the skeletal structure of some vast, complicated beast. Seeing how the slanting sunlight catches the upward slanting tracery of fine hazel twigs laced between the more mature trunks it strikes me once again how web-like they are. How credible scarey folktales about giant spiders become. Even on a sunny afternoon.

Sternly reminding myself that many cultures regard spiders as benign, I press on through the twiggy, springy hazel web. As nearly always happens, I’m rewarded by seing something I’ve never seen before.

swerveToday I suddenly notice the wild swerve taken by a pine trunk in its upward progress – from the ginger bark and somewhat ill-kempt, raffish dark green canopy a Scots pine, I think.  There’s a small stand of them, all not quite straight (like the lads at the bar, any saturday night) but none as curved as the one that first caught my eye.

I haven’t the faintest idea why that one tree took such a different route, but am obscurely delighted that it did, and that I happened to notice. There’s something ineffably satisfying about the sudden deviation from the norm. Thinking about it as I write, it occurs to me that part of the attraction is the apparent randomness. (I say apparent because I suspect such a striking deviation to be susceptable of causal explanation) This really is a case where it might be possible to literally ‘explain something away’, where a rational approach may be inimical to a purely sensual appreciation of beauty.

Happy in my ignorance, easily distracted by new delights, I’m soon absorbed in trying to get a satisfactory photo of the way the slanting sun edges the Hazel catkins with an almost fierce glow. A slightly haphazard procedure as the sun is so strong that I can’t actually see the screen on the back of the camera. Never mind, I have faith, and take a few extra, just to be on the safe side.  I’ve more or less shoved myself right into the middle of a particularly wild & twiggy Hazel, and am happily  nattering away to myself when a youngish couple saunter down the path past me with their dog…and without the slightest sign of surprise at finding a bush full of muttering idiot. They nod gravely in greeting (more or less in synch) and the woman utters a cheery ‘Hi there’, as they continue on their way.

I can’t be the only person that takes a deep delight in such instinctive (and distinctively English) sang-froid, can I ?

In the normal (in so far as I can be said to posses such) run of things I tend to be primarily sensitive to visual things. Today I’ve been vaguely thinking about an interveiw for a multi-sensory school project I have tomorrow, so my ears are working as well. An added bonus, I think, noticing what at first I take to be the sound of a woodpecker drilling wood.

Advancing cautiously into clump of pines, and finding a handy stump to sit down on, I perch slightly breathlessly and wait for it to come back…whatever it is, and hope that I can spot the bird as well. Whatever it is, there’s more than one of them, as I can hear short bursts rhythmic tapping coming from several directions, although never at once.

Having strained ears and eyes for a while, I finally conclude that it’s not woodpeckers. The sound seems too short, and too quiet to be made by beaks being vigorously applied to tree-trunks. Just as I’m thinking this, I see a flash of darkish blue on a podgy little bird moving down a tree trunk head first. It’s a Nuthatch – as far as I know the only bird that habitually does this head-long descent – and I realise that the sound must be the birds trying to get into nuts. Living up to their name, in fact. There’s something so deeply satisfying about this, actually hearing something I dimly remember reading about years and years ago.

Bouyed up by this, I sit and listen a while longer. Silencing all those muttering, gibbering internal voices (do this, remember that, where did I read that?) one by one, until I can actually hear what there is to be heard. Road noise, inevitably, but easy enough to tune out.  A surprising variety of flying things – small plane, jet airliner, another small plane and then a helicopter – improbably all in the space of not much more than ten minutes. All sorts of bird song, hardly any of which I can reliably identify…apart from the asthmatic coughing of some distant rooks. A few shots from a shotgun – someone afetr rabbits, perhaps? A slightly hysterical dog (happily receding, this) and yapping owner.

And, finally, once I’ve noticed everything else, so quiet I almost miss it, a gentle creaking sound. There’s hardly any breeze, but even so the thin trunks around me are swaying gently…creaking now and then. It sounds to me like the forest breathing, and it’s one of the most peaceful things I’ve heard for ages.

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