The wood is a different place without daylight; a place of shadow, rustling leaves, expectation. Sounds are louder, smells are stronger and each breath of air touching the skin becomes distinct. As I walk through the trees, my eyes try to see; I get the sensation that if I open them wider or try really hard, I will make out the shapes I know are there. There is a background frustration, a feeling similar to being caught by the mist; if I could just draw back the dark curtain, waft it out of the way for a few seconds… The night has solidity, has substance. It is more than a simple absence of light; I feel the dark as an element that has entered and filled the wood.
I travel through an alternate world. A stick snapping underfoot echoes with the force of a thunderclap, a scuffle in the leaves ahead stops my feet. The air is liquid clear; a cool pureness that draws in and out of my lungs. It’s pleasurable to exist in the calm void; colour is extinguished, noises distilled, horizons diminished. Moving along familiar pathways, landmarks are transmuted. Silver birches glow with an ethereal quality, shining markers invisible during daylight hours. Openings in the canopy, barely visible before dusk, become gaping slashes through the black. Bird-calls from far out on the marsh drift through the wood, clear and evocative; owls are loud, lilting.
Existing in the night’s quiet is fortune enough, but on occasions I share the space with others. Quite often, I stumble into the path of bats weaving loops along our tracks or between the trees; sometimes they are so close I can hear the noise made by their beating wings. More rarely, as I sit quietly, a fox can trot past – purposeful, intent on its journey. Badgers are less likely to be travelling when I see them – if they are, and we come upon each other in mutual surprise, I will see a striped face then a flash of tail as the badger veers quickly in another direction. More frequently I hear the badgers as they forage, loud scuffling in the undergrowth and leaf litter. Then I feel my heart beat on the back of my tongue as I slowly move up, close as I dare, to watch. Deer burst upon me in the dark, causing nerves to explode shock through my body; little mice leap around the forest floor, flicks of movement in the shadow.
When I visit the site of these night time encounters in daylight, it is hard to match the experience to the place. The magic is swept aside and the profiles of the dark hours are no longer apparent, hidden beneath showy colour and texture. While the wood is a wonderful place to be during the day, there is an aspect of its character that can never be found when the sun is up. Walking through the wood in the dark is a journey through another dimension, a not-to-be-missed adventure into the secret of night…