We finally owned The Wood. People would have wondered what on Earth we were up to if they’d seen us visiting our wood for the first time. We had no track to, or gate into, the woods (still don’t), so they would have observed a family, perfectly stepped in height from Mark down to Amos, trudging across a field carrying three small barbeque grills, a red plastic seesaw, water, a kettle, three tins of baked beans, Amos’ toy tractor, bird feeders and a potty. We were pulling a trundler too, and carrying rucksacks and a big yellow box we were planning to use to store things in at base camp. It was a strange feeling. Exciting. Daunting.
As we climbed over the wall into our wood, I could feel the trees morph. They had taken on a greater magnitude. They were entities in their own right, no longer just a mass of trunks, not an agglomeration called ‘wood’ anymore, but a collection of personalities. We are very fortunate to know the history of our wood back to the mediaeval times, and as we picked our paths between trunks and roots, over tumbled walls and rock outcrops, I felt the history around us. Our wood has been empty and unmanaged since the Second World War, but before that, people had made their livelihoods here. Other families had worked and lived and laughed and loved here. Was The Wood glad to feel a family running through it again?
We found the place that we had agreed on for base camp. We made a fire and cooked beans on toast. We boiled a kettle and made tea and hot juice, ate chocolate and grinned at each other over the fire. Amos played with his green toy tractor, Joe and Peta climbed trees (Joe busied himself with a bow saw removing a branch that was troubling him – he likes to have a job, a point to things) and Melody wedged herself into the fork of a tree to read her book in peace. Our family had already begun to settle in, to find their niche in the wood.
I see my children find freedom in the woods and I am proud of them. Melody is steadfast in her care of her pet dragon, Peta lets out her inner explorer, Amos will lie in a hammock for hours watching the sky and Joe seems to slip through the bars of his cage of fear and anxiety generated by his autism. I see them being the children that todays society seems unable to nurture, unable to encourage, unwilling to acknowledge the value of. I am so grateful they have a place to develop their imagination and find themselves.
I don’t want to give the impression that up at the woods, we have found a magic solution that makes our family life totally harmonious and stress free. Far from it. Frequently, the first half hour of each return to the trees is loud, grumpy, angry. The children fall out and I get upset that everything isn’t right, that people aren’t happy. Joe finds any transition stressful, even the change from home to wood, and it rubs off on us all. I find myself shouting too, tight chested with stress, but there is a difference at the wood. No one can hear us. There is no one to judge us. The shouting is just shouting. It is not accompanied by the fear of how we are perceived. The shouting can be resolved within our family, and it is. We are a much louder family than I would like. Joe is very loud and a huge controlling personality, born from the need within him to make his environment safe. We all end up trying to shout over him. But we are also a loving family, a family that supports each other, a family that recognises each of us for who we are and we know how it feels to be judged. After a while, the noise dies down, we become calmer, we find our places and we move on. It isn’t magic, but the wood gives us space; space to grow closer.
That first day, Joe and Mark built two little walls by a hollow under a tree. It was just the right size for us to fit the seesaw, trundler and box we’d planned to leave behind. It was a makeshift affair, but we wanted it to look as if these things had been left purposefully in case anyone happened to wander in our woods. We wanted the items to look owned, not abandoned. But when the time to leave came, all of a sudden I felt unsure. I felt like I was abandoning the seesaw and box and trundler. I felt a crazy affinity towards these plastic items purposely selected for their non essential nature (all three were already a little broken), I felt for them being left in a strange wood. I worried they would be stolen. I actually had to make an effort to walk away from these possessions of ours, to leave them alone in the trees. But I did it. I walked away, leaving behind a base in our woods, a sign that we had been there and would return, a sign that my family had arrived.