My journey along the lanes this morning is through verges frothing with cow parsley. The sun is shining. It is clear that the fair weather of the last week has wrought change. As I open the wood’s gate and step inside, a smell of warm green envelopes me. The robin sings a welcome. A deer, resting by the wall, slowly unfolds itself and casually strolls up deeper into the wood, its coat a sleek red, antlers still stumps of velvet. It is wading through the bluebells; no longer a sea of flowers, the plants have become a mass of tall stalks adorned with swollen globular seedpods, a deep green lake has replaced the eddies of blue .
Walking up the track, the wood either side seems dark compared to recent weeks. Although a cooling breeze meanders the open paths, the air is stationary beneath the trees newly laden with broad, spring-green leaves. This sudden leaf explosion is holding in the damp and keeping out the sun; the woodland floor is now in permanent, humid, shade. It makes the clearings we have made over the winter very obvious. Veteran crab apples and yews, white beam and buckthorn are all standing in pools of light; it gives the feel of a museum spotlighting its most prized exhibits.
All around is bird song, it is noisier than it has been for months. Birds whose young have left the nest are no longer concerned about being seen. They lead their families through the branches, a flurry of chatter and activity. I watch a family of young marsh tits bumbling along branches, tumbling from higher twigs to clutch hold of lower ones just before crashing out of the canopy – but the parents don’t doubt their offspring’s ability to stay safe and chirp away, proudly watching. The nuthatch family are calling in the canopy too. They have a completely different voice and their young seem more steady, less fluffy. It is hard to make out birds in the lush green above, but I catch glimpses of blue tits, great tits and black birds all bustling about in their newly curtained tree space.
On the floor I find a tawny owl feather, perfect and soft in a beautiful brown stripy pattern. The edges are indistinct and its surface furred so as to make its movement through the air silent. And near the feather, two stems of greater butterfly orchid have bloomed, the flowers white with open wings like little angels on a Christmas tree. Further on again and I startle a deer – it bounds away, white rump flashing through the trees. On a nearby stump I see a mound of little feathers – the remains of a tiny blue tit – this is the plucking post of a buzzard and the blue tit was dinner. A deer barks off in the distance and I carry on to the Cosy Shed to check it for wasp nests. I find a wasp has set up home so I move the nest before it becomes a problem. Gossamer light, I fumble my hold and the paper sphere lands in a spider’s web where it remains, suspended in the air like it is floating. Inside its entrance is visible the hexagonal comb where the queen has laid tiny eggs that become grubs. Above me, a blue tit is cross. Looking up I see the bird, beak full of caterpillars. How can it shout so loudly at me without dropping its load? A loud group-squawk erupts from the nest box by the shed, but the blue tit will not enter – it knows I am watching – so I leave the bird to its task, moving to stand on the cliff edge above the marsh. The smell of estuary mud blows up over the wood, the moving air bringing down swirls of hawthorn blossom.
The spring was slow to come this year and slow in passing, but with surprising abruptness the season has changed. All at once the wood is awash with summer.