Sometimes I forget that once our wood was a limestone island in the marsh; today it’s not at all hard to imagine. Reclaimed fields are underwater and even the high ground is saturated. Day in, day out, band after band of rain has blown through, soaking the already drenched land. Now, every footstep towards the wood sinks into sodden earth; depressions left by the feet of cows and sheep are filled with water. I slop up to the trees.
The wood is dreadfully dark. Steely skies hang heavy over the canopy. The little light making it through the rain lashed branches is quickly swallowed by shade. The woodland floor is a thick carpet of rain darkened leaves, trunks are stained black by water and swollen lichen. Limestone, turned slate grey in the damp, is slippery underfoot where slimy films of algae have added brush strokes of dark green. In areas of bare ground, mud oozes. Deer have skidded, badgers too have struggled to keep their footing as they navigated our paths; I don’t stand much of a chance and grab hold of trees in the trickier places.
Sound is sucked away in this water filled wood; footsteps are silent, leaf fall muffled. Even the sound of a passing rain shower is a rustling hiss; it’s only later when the shower has passed and a breath of wind stirs the leaves that I hear the heavy thud of raindrops. Occasionally a bird chirps, but the sound is muted and short lasting, giving the impression the caller has given up, enthusiasm rapidly curtailed; a curlew’s cry is eerie and distant. The air is damp, cold penetrates as I breathe it in. Summer smells of wet loam have gone, now the damp brings scents of rotting wood, thriving fungi, decaying leaves.
I can’t remember seeing the wood this wet. The ground beneath the yews is soaked – I can usually rely on the thickest, oldest yews for shelter – and even the badger sett has deep puddles above some of the entrances. This is not the wood’s best outfit. On days like these the wood does not look beautiful. But there is still beauty to be found.
Fungi abound in fascinating colours and shapes, from the minute to the enormous. There are stripy frills, red cups, puffs balls, fairy homes with maroon roofs and cream walls, translucent mushrooms that look as if they should glow in the dark and umbrellas ranging in colour from green to plum. Leaves still holding on to their trees are showing yellows and browns amongst the greens, while ferns are changing to a delicate shade of peach. Spider’s weavings, hanging from twigs, are weighed down with crystal droplets; any glint of light shatters through the tiny prisms creating a web momentarily dressed in diamonds. And in each fallen upturned leaf, a shimmering pool of clearest water is held, reflecting the branches above against the grey glower of the sky. Yes, it is a little harder to find the beauty of the wood when the weather is this wet… but it only takes a second glance.