When the cold wind stills and the sun comes out, the wood breathes spring. A fog of delicate blue swirls over the woodland floor as mists of green haze the tree branches; I see the tints of colour soon to arrive. There is a feeling of promise, a feeling that all is poised on the edge ready to crash into an explosion of life. I love this feeling, that all is ahead, everything is to come.
Recently in the wood, we have noticed something else beginning too. The wood is changing. It started with tiny primrose plants that appeared from nowhere, then we noticed miniature rose plants, honeysuckles starting up from the bare earth, violets where there had been none, an unexpectedly thick growth of Lords and Ladies. All this new growth is appearing round our main camp. The camp was the first area of canopy we thinned, the first area we practised with a bit of coppicing – not in any structured way and mainly to give us space for a campfire area – but after two years, biodiversity is returning to the wood floor. We have done nothing but let in the light – nature has done the rest.
It’s such a beautiful time of year, and such a symbolic one. The coming of the spring with its longer days has passed many of our family markers – I don’t have to get up in the dark to get the children ready for school, Mark doesn’t need his headlights to drive home from work, we don’t need the light on to eat our evening meal, and we don’t need to do the Brownie/Guide drop offs with a torch. But sitting in the shelter of our trees gives me an awareness of how much closer to nature the people of this wood were in the past; how much more the coming of spring meant to them. It truly meant life where life depended on crop growth, the fertilisation of plants by insects, the birth and survival of new domestic animals, the regenerating growth from coppice stools. And spring must have brought a welcome relief from the cold and the dark, some respite from the wet.
There is no difficulty in understanding why we rejoice at the coming of spring, no surprise that celebrations of spring’s arrival echo far back into our past. Even this country’s Easter celebrations are rooted in historic traditions, a patchwork of beliefs, a woven thanksgiving of rebirth and renewal. From the time the sun was thought of as ‘reborn’ at the winter solstice, rising from the southern cross where it rested at it’s lowest point in the sky for three days, bringing with it longer days and warmth, the spring has touched deep within. Easter is named (according to the Venerable Bede), after Eostre, the Saxon mother goddess. She was the source of all things, the bringer of new life. Eostre is said to have transformed a wounded bird into a hare to help it survive the winter. When spring came, the hare found that it laid eggs, so each year, would decorate them and leave them as an offering to the goddess. The festival of Easter is an intertwining of thousands of years of tradition, a celebration of revival, resurrection and new life.
Churches were traditionally decorated with primroses – the ‘first rose’ – at Easter. Looking at the new, tiny primroses on the wood floor that seemed bare but for leaf litter just two years ago, I am filled with the uplifting feeling this time of year brings, the celebration as the natural world around me wakes up after the bare emptiness of the dark, cold winter. Every year, nature bursts with new beginnings, but never does it become commonplace. Each year the marvel of spring evokes feelings as fresh and as fantastic as if it were the first time it had ever happened, each year bringing with it the whisper of hope. What a wonderful thing to be able to celebrate.