The thudding footsteps of children recede down the dry, woodland path; as they move ahead of me, I wonder for how long they will manage to sort out their differences without resorting to inflicting damage on each other. As peace descends, I madly try to cram my experience of the coming spring into the minute or two of quiet I am stealing. I log the sounds, the smells, attempt to mentally screen-grab what I am seeing. I need something to hold onto, something to bring perspective in the immense stress of life-under-lockdown.
Even in the last few days, the wood has changed. A gauzy veil of green is gently lying over the trees, a filmy purple mist whispering over the ground. The sun has brought out tiny green leaves and the bluebell buds are beginning to fill with colour. Small pools of violet are forming, each one calling to be looked at. I walk from cluster to cluster, but as I approach, pools separate into individual bluebell drops, colour losing its intensity with definition. As I look round, other pools are still calling ‘Here, over here – we are bluer,’ but they too loose their vividity as I come nearer. I want time to stop – like a child willing Christmas to arrive through the whole of advent, I have ached for the bluebell spring, but now, I hold my full Christmas stocking close, wanting to wait and enjoy the suspense, not wanting to open the presents inside. I know how quickly these bluebells are over once they are in full bloom – now I want to prolong their time here by holding them on the cusp of flowering. But the wood is warm and quickly greening. The show cannot be put off.
As I record the scene in my mind, butterflies flit through the flowers, alighting for seconds at a time. They are more in number and variety than I have seen this year – speckled wood, peacock, large and small whites, orange tips. Other insects are busying themselves too – bee flies dust the ground with the draught from their wings as they skim over the soil, and crane flies seem to play, dangling their legs through the nodding flower heads. Birds are calling to each other overhead, nuthatches tap in the distance while bees feed and bustle. Then the children are here again, and I hear only them.
We continue our walk, and find an early spotted orchid. I am excited – I’ve only found one in the wood before and for the last two years it has not come up. We spend a while admiring the new plant and building a little reminder fence to protect it from our feet. Then we are on our way out of the wood, heading for home. But as we are leaving, there is a strange sound towards camp. Mark goes to investigate, given our recent intrusion. After a few minutes, I think I hear him call out, so seeing the children are safe and playing, I walk up to find him. I see him coming through the trees and stop to wait for him when suddenly there is an explosion behind me. Turning, I see the hare hurtling away, then coming to a halt to turn and stare at me. I stare back for a second before Mark, still coming, makes a noise in the trees and the hare takes flight again, disappearing between the trunks. I must have almost stood on it as I walked past, so go to investigate. For the first time in my life, I find the ‘form’ of a hare, snuggled between the roots of an oak tree – what a lovely place to snooze in the sun. I suddenly feel a lift; I feel the wood reaching out to me saying, ‘This isn’t the end, I have not done yet. There is more I will show you, all you have to do is hang on in there…’ As we set off home, I know I will manage the rest of the day.