There is an unusual backdrop to the wood as I approach, grey clouds rimmed with glaring white stand out against a pale, barley-yellow sky. I am looking south-east. Behind me the clouds sit in a blue background; I wonder what is making the strange light. But the sun is shining, bringing a welcome warmth as I open the gate into the wood. It still seems odd not to have to climb in; I’m not yet used to the new track. The first thing I notice is the autumn leaves tumbled into heaps, freezing into solidity the eddies of wind that sculpted the piles. They help to hide the stark limestone glare of the track, though it’s beginning to mellow already with tufts of grass emerging in places, and small twigs colouring the surface.
Inside the wood it is still and warm and very dry. The smell is of autumn green, with no hint of the damp-loving fungi usual at this time of year. I wander for a while, then sit down on a tumbled wall; it’s coated in moss and crowned with emerald ferns. The moss feels soft, desiccated; it makes a good cushion. Above me the canopy is thinning, allowing long shafts of light down to the woodland floor. Spider webs shimmer in these spotlights, and tiny insects drift like motes of gold. Floating threads catch on dry grass stems, gossamer banners waving lazily over the yellow and brown of fallen leaves. Insects drone overhead and there is the intermittent twitter of birds.
Later I light a fire. The smoke hangs, tinging the air, drifting into the canopy, hazing the sun. It reminds me of an experiment in Brownian motion, traces of particle pathways revealed in a smoke chamber. From my perch, I can see a long dead oak. It’s not far away, pock marked and woodpecker drilled, the bark slipping and bulging from the trunk in ruched decay. Despite its own death, it provides for a wealth of life – now a nuthatch forages among the branches, loud sharp taps echoing around me. The kettle burbles as it comes to the boil. For a few minutes, there is peace; for a short while it feels as though autumn and time have wound back a little to late summer. I enjoy the sun, knowing this cannot last. The changing of the seasons seems more poignant this year, the ghosts of the bluebells do not seem very old and yet so much has happened as we moved from spring through to autumn. I welcome the pause in the wood’s surge towards cooler seasons, I make the most of the September sunshine.