Autumn in the woods
Martine Johnson enjoys a seasonal walk and is reminded of an ancient poem
Walking through the ancient woodland with the sun rising and the chorus of bird song is just as my dad describes: like walking through nature’s cathedral. The white mist softens the outline of the trees, and the rising sun creates the illusion of stained glass windows. I know this woodland well, having walked this exact pathway for many years, I know its beech trees with their broad spreading crown, the majesty of the mighty oaks. I know the hidden animals that live here, gracing this place at night: the foxes, the badgers, the mice, the bats, the tawny owls, and the hares. I know where the snowdrops and the bluebells grow in the spring and where the river, swollen by winter rains, carved out a new channel in its gravel bed during the wet winter months.
And here, as we begin autumn, I know all the delights that the season brings. The woodland begins its transformation again, from the green foliage of the summer months, now turning to golden, fiery shades. With this season come the delights of hunting for conkers, kicking through the dry fallen leaves, and the roasting of chestnuts. In addition, the hedgerows will be brimming with blackberries and early sloes, making for fruitful family foraging expeditions.
The house martins will begin to gather in flocks containing family groups, and the swallows will be seen settling on the power lines in the distance. Both these activities are preludes to the long journey that will be taken very soon to warmer climes.
Buzzards are to be seen daily, effortlessly gliding on thermals in the skies above the trees. Several of these birds meet up for a spectacular aerial display which is too high to be interrupted by the local crows.
There are also many young foxes around, who will continue to grow through the autumn months, much to the delight of my dog, who now trails them, nose to the ground at every opportunity.
Bats are also numerous visitors in some parts of the woods and our loft space, with Common and Soprano Pipistrelles and Barbastelles often seen flying an irregular dance above our heads at dusk and having an audible presence in the loft whilst roosting.
I think about many things whilst out on my walks, and away from the busyness of modern life, I am able to listen to the rhythm of my beating heart, the rustling of leaves in the breeze, and the sounds of nature. I have come to understand that there is beauty in standing still and have learnt that the quieter I become, the more I can feel the presence of God. It is here, looking out over the ancient oak and beech-filled woodland during this changing of the seasons that I feel a deep sense of contentment and a sense of ‘place’.
Often during my walks in the woods, I am reminded of a poem from St Manchon, a 10th-century hermit:
‘O Son of the living God, old eternal King, I desire a hidden hut in the wilderness that it may be my home.
A narrow little blue stream beside it and a clear pool…
A lovely wood close about it on every side, to nurse the birds with all sorts of voices and to hide them with its shelter.
A beautiful draped church, a home for God from Heaven…’