I’m in the woods, walking slowing along the track, taking small detours to avoid other walkers. Already I have kept my distance from the hikers at least four metres ahead of me, but maybe I am still too close; I am in the slipstream of their deodorant, and the wash of another human I must avoid at all costs.
I walk over beech nuts, last year’s mast crackling gently underfoot; they do not split as they would in a dry summer, not since the spring rains have dampened their snap. Above me is the domain of birds. A sudden flitter and I look up and see the erratic flight of a treecreeper. A nuthatch repeats its insistent call; maybe he is warning others of the intruder on the ground. Crows and jackdaws wing over the canopy one at a time, and a jay with its noticeable blue stripe is there one minute but gone the next. A pigeon bats and flaps clumsily before finding a branch on which to anchor. Here the holly is burgeoning, absorbing the sun that sheens the leaves, and I can think of no other word but ‘glistening.’ Even the few remaining berries are brighter than I remember from before Christmastime when I came to gather a branch or two to deck the fireplace.
I am walking out into the open where the lake is before me. It is a private fishing lake now but was once a quarry and now allowed to fill with stream water coming from the hills. The trees are lined up around it, so close, as if nudging their way to reach the water’s edge, to peer over and see their reflection in the mirrored surface. The Canada geese are frisky, males arching up, muscling out of the water, showing off their prowess. Meanwhile, the ducks skit around regardless.
At the far end of the lake, small trees dip their light-fleshed leaves into the water. I cross to the other side where a plank has been placed over a brook. I clamber up the slope searching for the path. This is the wilder part of the wood where a fallen tree lies on the ground. It is a fully grown beech uprooted during a storm and has crashed down on the sodden bank. It is shallow-rooted as I can see all of its undercarriage, its root end upturned, its bark a map of rivers and roads and roundabouts. The orbs and caves and crusts of lichen are shelters for tiny new lives.
I rest on the trunk to catch my breath. Here the air is sweetest, the earth more pungent, the lake water rising in the heat of the sun sharpens the scents. I look back at the ground behind me and see my footprints and the holes left by my stick, knowing that whatever happens they will soon be replaced.
Alison Lock writes poetry, short fiction and creative non-fiction. Her work focuses on the relationship of humans and the environment, connecting an inner world with an exploration of land and sea, a love of nature, through poetry and prose. See her website here.