The noise was immense as I opened the gate to the wood yesterday; the rain thundering down on the canopy was relentless. Today the noise is more gentle, a soft patter of drops against the rustle of tossing leaves. After the recent run of dry weather, everything from the top of the trees to last year’s leaves on the woodland floor is now covered with a slick of rain. Drips hang, loaded, deluging me with soaking splatters each time the wind gusts. I brace myself for each drenching as I hear it coming, at first a gentle whisper in the distance that rises to an urgent rushing above as the liquid ammunition is released. Above all this sound, a wren is singing its heart out, a lone voice on the edge of the wood.
Moving further into the trees, the chatter of the tits make a backing track for the wren. I catch sight of a greater spotted woodpecker. The red head and red under-tail make it easy to trace its path up a trunk. Bursts of perfect black and white show between the leaves, then a dull thudding commences as this male drills here and there, looking for food.
As I walk, I am strolling through green stems of almost-bursting, bluebell seedpods and stalks crammed with the lords and ladies berries, still hard emerald beads. It’s chilly in the gloom. On the path, tiny mushrooms have emerged, so small and delicate that they are engulfed by the droplets of water that have collected on them; they seem suspended in the raindrops. Birds about me are acknowledging each other – passing the time of day, imparting necessary information, stopping for a quick chat. They are travellers along an arboreal high street, interacting as they go about their business.
A tree has come down in the wind. It has snapped clean off from the base, and it is clear why. As it has fallen it has pulled with it the limestone anchor it has grown around; the trunk seems to have consumed the rock as it grew, encircling it with roots, growing over it until it became an integral part of the trunk. Without the core strength of wood, the tree has snapped at its rock heart leaving an upended trunk seemingly plugged by limestone.
Nearby there is a small stand of smooth sycamores, grey on the sides protected from the weather. But these dry sides have not completely escaped the rain. They are stained brown with rivulets, vertical water courses whose origins are high in the canopy. Slugs are using these damp trails as motorways, moving up and down the trunk; there are criss-cross patterns showing where the slugs have changed lanes. Wood pigeons are cooing now, and I can smell the water in the air – like standing on a bridge over a river in full torrent.
Further on again – a clearing where a tree fell last year. The trunk is not completely on the floor, being propped against an oak. It must have had honeysuckle growing up it as now, only two metres from the ground, there is a mass of flowers, white and creamy yellow. I think to move and smell the blossom, but before I can move a wall of scent hits me – intense, pure, floral. All enveloping, this perfume could never come from a bottle. The flowers shine in the light pouring through the opening in the canopy, and as I move away the wood seems darker in contrast. Instead of flowers, the air is now heavy with damp, with the leaves and old branches of the woodland floor.
Above, the grey clouds crack apart and the whole atmosphere lifts. Moving into a patch of sunlight, warmth floods in. The air is hazy with water, mist hangs between the trees. Sun reflects from every grass blade, every leaf, every suspended droplet. Pigeons take off, clapping their wings and a tiny goldcrest flits about a yew branch at eye level, the slash of yellow on its head darting between the deep green needles. Everything is green, from the bracken and new holly leaves at ground level, to the canopy leaves at different stages of maturity. I am stooping to examine a perfect, newly emerged cup fungi when I hear it; the distance rumble of approaching rain. Even as I listen it is coming closer, and it is heavy. As I run to the car, huge globules of rain burst as they make contact, soaking my hair, my face, my clothes; cold and fresh. As I close the gate, the sound of yesterday has returned – the intense, immense noise of the rain thundering relentlessly on the canopy.