Walking through the woods at the moment, you could easily imagine some one was tipping a perpertual rainstick. The bluebell seed heads have ripened and dried and now we have become part of their dispersal mechanism; each stride we make fires miniature black beads over a crackling dry leaf floor. It’s brilliant!
The wood is becoming dry now though. Honeysuckles wilt from the trees that support them; the tiny saplings at floor level wilt too. The ground of the woods is hard and dry, the paths we have stamped crazed by miniature chasms. The odd silver birch has turned completely brown – I hope they will show leaves next spring, but I suspect we have lost a couple. The beech too are peppered with dead leaves intermingled with the green, and I wonder how the tree decides which leaves are most dispensable because I am sure it won’t be random – nature’s not like that.
I am a little concerned about our trees – living on a limestone plateau means they cannot get their roots down very far, so they will feel water stress earlier than deep rooted trees. But I am more concerned about the badgers. It must be like digging through concrete to find food at the moment. Certainly there will be a distinct lack of earthworms as they move downwards to escape desiccation and for an animal like the badger whose diet is up to eighty percent earthworm, that must make an impact. Their foraging has definitely changed; our wood is strewn with fallen trees, shallow rooted causalties of the wind, and now the badgers are ripping this larder apart in search of grubs instead of digging. We are leaving water out for them and I know they are drinking it. I hope it helps them over this dry time.
Although the lack of water causes concern on some levels, it has brought with it an exciting discovery. Below our wood, there is a wet field with a small shallow pond in it. An old map we have marks the site of a well somewhere in the field, but we assumed it was just a spring where fresh water escapes the limestone escarpment to create the shallow pond. However, when we visited the field last week, we found the well. It has fallen in so is not normally visible at the lowest point of the pond. With the water table round here lower than it must have been in a long time, the well has been exposed, square cut edges of rock containing what is now the only water in the field … and interestingly, it was full of frogs! Maybe this solves our frog mystery from the springtime too. Maybe the frogs in our wood pile at basecamp hatched out in the well? I’ll come back in the spring to see.
As I sit typing this the air hangs heavy over the wood. It is absolutely silent here. Not a breath of air, not a moving leaf. It feels ominous. The sky is grey and dull. Then a breeze passes through and there is a lightening, a chirp, a flutter, a rustle before once again the smother of the summer. With the start of the school holidays, rain seems inevitable… we shall see.