As the winter approaches, the mood of the wood depends so much on the light…
The canopy is gone. Trees stand, tall, bare, skeletal. Under the grey cloud the wood looks brown and muted, pale fawn fading to drab grey. Trunks very quickly become indistinct with distance, merging into a single brownish background, bringing horizons close. Suddenly, a startling flash of red, a robin, come to see what I am up to. I watch him as he watches me. The cold is clear and sharp, hitting the back of my nose with a damp, mulchy smell. I pull in lungfuls of the clean air as my fingertips tingle with the cold. The robin has seen enough and moves from my sight.
The grey sky is broken by small patches of beautiful, pure blue. I watch as these windows to a sunny world move across the sky. A window falls into line with the sun, flooding the wood with light, lifting it into shades of silver and russet. The air stirs the bright creams of last season’s tall grass and the shadows of branches dance on the lit trunks. Moss becomes a vibrant green. The wood is transformed. Distant trunks emerge from the background, the wood gains depth. But within seconds all is lost; the sun is gone, the wood closes back around me, the moss takes on the deep dark green of hidden waterfalls. It is silent and still.
At this time of year there is so much more sky to be seen from the wood. Clouds are moving steadily, gathering, darkening. A breath of wind sounds in the distance, comes closer, the rushing noise intensifying until it roars in, the strong wind hitting my face. A light pattering starts on the woodland floor, raindrops hitting the leaves. The light changes again; now I stand in a shaft of sun while the sky is black. It’s a strange light, picking out spider webs draped horizontally in the tree branches, making the wet floor sparkle, brightness spreading beneath the oppressive cloud. The rain becomes heavier, each illuminated drop tracing its vertical shining path to the floor. Tops of bare trees bask in a rosy glow as a remaining leaf is caught up by the draught and hurled down to join all the others. The noise of the wind above is matched by the rapid thudding of water droplets hitting leaf litter. There is not much shelter in the wood with the trees bare and I run for the yews; a deer barks in the background. Dry under the evergreens, I watch waves of heavy rain blow across the bay, wrap my arms round my body enjoying the contrast.
The call of the curlew welcomes the end of the rain, a raven cronks as it soars over the cliff edge. The sun shimmers in front of me; it picks out in silver each suspended droplet of rain so every twig and branch is festooned in quivering, wet fairy-lights. On the floor, water beads on fallen leaf undersides, pools on leaf tops and the reflected light from this slick is so bright it hurts my eyes. Turning to avoid the dazzle, the view behind me is more mellow – warm brown and silver, sun-drenched trunks glow in front of a dark sky background.
As I walk, I come across little oases of colour – a holly bush exuding seasonal cheer, a young oak whose top leaves have clung on, green and yellow and brown enhanced by the surrounding monochrome. All the time there is the smell of cold, clear damp. The black clouds retreat. It is quiet and still once more.
As I leave the wood the light changes one last time. Dusk draws in. A watercolour sky shows between the silhouettes of the trees. Fading from a fiery red on the horizon through yellows and greens, the sky above the treetops is a delicate pale blue. Depth returns to the wood, brought by the far off light. The wind blows softly through the branches, gently lifting my hair. Peace falls as the woods settles down for the night; the ever changing light ebbs away.