The Wakening Wood

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UO (32)

The dull thud of the closing tailgate, having released an eager hound, was enough to prompt an exodus of clattering grey feather from the ivy-strangled pines that lined the woodland ride. Tall, dark Ents that stand vigil around the Old Hall and stare down at me with critical eyes, yet tolerance. Calling the dog to heel, I set off along the top of the escarpment. Two cock pheasants broke their stand-off to run for cover, exciting the dog until my hiss to ‘leave!’ hit home. His ears dropped and he tucked in beside me. For him, ‘verboten’. We’re here to protect the game. I stood for a while to listen to the wood and, as always, the wood talked back to me. To the West, on this cold bitter dawn, the jackdaws had woken and were joining the rooks. Serfs and their lieges. Both species would spend the day drifting from drilling to sprouting crop. They’re enjoying another mild winter and even last nights frost had disappeared now, so the plunder of seed and grub would be possible. To the East, the male buzzard was exalting the rising golden orb of a low winter sun. He has been abandoned now by hen and offspring. Another successful year for the old boy, perhaps his ninth now? Strange that he remains here through winter, like me, loyal to this hunting ground. To the South, across the water meadows below the shallow escarpment, I watch and hear the squadrons of Canadas and Pinkies alight on the wetlands along the River Wensum. We descend the escarpment, the lurcher and I, to slip into the estates Garden Wood. The dogs nose goes down and a woodcock snaps up and away. My heart jumps a beat, as it does when the pheasant lifts or the woodpigeon clatters unexpectedly. I like my heart jumping. It reminds me I’m still alive. The wood is a dark and close knit arboretum. A mix of exotic species of cherry, yew, pines, box, laburnum and indigenous deciduous trees. The rising sun is spilling between branch and leaf, as if illuminating a natural stage and awaiting an orchestral performance. And it happens. Now, even in mid-winter, the sunbeams are filled with a whirl of tiny midges, woken by this false spring. A wren appears, then a robin. The sun has gifted them an insect breakfast. Their exuberance is stalled momentarily as a wood-pigeon races through the glade pursued by a spar. Even the dog ducks in deference to the majesty of the chase. Did the sparrowhawk connect ? I doubt it, in such a crowded wood. We moved on, disturbing a small muntjac buck. Again, temptation for a chasing dog but denied with a simple whisper. He’s a good lad, my Dylan, because I trained him to be so. As the small deer progressed it pushed up a hare sheltering from the bitter wind behind an ancient yew trunk. Again, the whisper to the dog … who I know realises it isn’t a rabbit but would love it to be! We had a fruitful morning, the dog and I . That’s for reporting elsewhere.  The most important thing this morning was just the privilege of being here, in a wakening English wood.

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