Of spring and vacuum cleaners


“Has this happened before?” asks Mark, as I battle our two youngest children into their school coats. He is holding up two bits of my vacuum cleaner, which yesterday, were a single unit.
“No,” I reply, as I rush out of the door.
I’ve had the vacuum cleaner for sixteen years, and for eight of them, it has been held together with various pieces of gaffer tape. I think this time, it really is the end. I begin to brood on the many things in my life that I have been holding together with metaphorical gaffer tape for a long time now. My vacuum cleaner begins to take on epic proportions in my head as I start to wonder how long I can keep cobbling my life into a passable imitation of functional; when will it become no longer practical and follow in the footsteps of my vacuum cleaner. My head is aching. I really don’t feel like going to the wood. I am not in a writing mood, but because I know staying in will only make me feel worse, I force myself out.

When I park, I have to park the car at an odd angle becauseĀ there’s a smashed beer bottle in the parking area and I’m scared I will puncture my tyres. Then I panic I have no phone, and if I do get a puncture, I won’t be able to let anyone know and my children will be stranded on the school bus. I resolve to leave the wood early, then if I do have a puncture, I will have time to walk to a nearby farm to phone Mark before the children come home. I am half way up the road towards the wood before I even notice; I stop and look around me in amazement – it is an absolutely stunning early-spring morning. The sky is a perfect blue, skimmed with the lightest of white cloud. The sun warms my bare arms and beams down on the hedgerows making the ivy shine out, wonderfully green. Now nature has my attention. I see tiny puffs of new leaf in tangled brown ropes of old man’s beard, dog violet and lesser celandine add bursts of colour to the verge, and the new horse chestnut leaves are breaking out of huge swollen buds on twigs that reach almost down to the road.

As I turn up through the fields, I notice the ground is beginning to dry out. Sheep and birds are calling, and where the woodland floor is visible, rising behind its boundary wall, I can see it is bathed in light – even from far away I can see the green of the moss, glowing in the sun.

Once in the wood, the wild garlic smells strongly. Wild garlic leaves carpet the wood round it’s edges, while the bluebells are creating a thick green covering further in. I can hear the birds, but they are being much more secretive these days. There is not the loud chatter of a few weeks ago, instead it feels as though I intrude on furtive conversations and whispered updates. I keep on walking. The winds of the last few weeks have blown over a number of trees; it changes perspectives, makes me take a second look, and inevitably, looking a little harder shows me something I had failed to notice before – a new nook, an old nest, a different aspect.

The sunlight shining through the trees is so beautiful; the wood is bright and airy. Yesterday, after heavy rain, the branches were festooned in sparkling fairy lights as the sun lit up thousands of droplets suspended beneath twigs. Today, it is the tiny bursting buds that twinkle green and bright in the sun. A huge white-tailed bumble bee buzzes lazily through, and all the while, a busy, quiet, twittering comes from the branches above. On the ground I can see a single bluebell, way ahead of all the others, one bell opening at the top of its tall stalk; on the path there is a scattering of sycamore buds, discarded by finches feasting in the tree tops.

Delicate leaves unfold on the hawthorns – they are that lovely fresh, spring green. Hazel too is showing shimmers of this light green, while under the trees there is the rich dark green of lords and ladies and holly bushes. High in the older trees, not yet near leaf, there is the green of moss and ferns growing where branches join trunks, and as I look, I can see a few insects passing.

Base camp is full of light as I walk by, listening to the ravens cronking overhead. I check out the badgers – there’s no question that they are active – and head down to the Cosy Shed. When I fill the bird feeder, the nuthatches are down immediately. They look so smart, with their crisp greys and chestnut colours. Then the feeder is ambushed by tits – coal, great, marsh and blue. A female chaffinch looks for seed knocked onto the floor by the nuthatch. I study the chaffinch, seeing detail in patterning that I haven’t taken in before – the peach on the chest, the faint pale stripe on the head, the white feathers in the wing. All the birds are absolutely gorgeous in their spring finery; feathers perfect, colours vivid, patterns clean and fresh.

The feeder was the busiest I’ve seen it for months; by the time I was ready to leave, it was empty. The sun was still shinning and the spring air was cold and clear. A wonderful day to be outside, a glorious place to be outside in. As ever, life seems so different when viewed through the branches of the trees… As ever, I am so thankful for the woods and the perspective they bring. Why have I been worrying? After all, vacuum cleaners aren’t much use in a wood…”

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