I walked in the woods again this week, still green and lush and calming amid the storms of life. For ages I sat on my favourite tree stump, hoping to see the deer come down to the water to drink.
It’s beneath the shade of an enormous beech tree, which sweeps its green canopy up into the sky and down into the valley, an omnidirectional sculpture of grace and beauty. The stream beneath it has been stilled into a series of mill ponds, each not high enough to stretch over the stone dams and tumble on down to the hammerpond below.
There’s no wind. The ferns and ivy and wildflowers – the flowers have long since faded to green – clothe the woodland floor.
Bluetits are chatting inanely about life, and a woodpecker knocks politely, somewhere unseen above. Suddenly there’s a heavy crashing: the deer at last? No – Just a clumsy squirrel, swinging through the branches like Tarzan, stopping to nibble hazelnuts before dancing on its precarious way.
Finally the gentle spatter of rain persuades me it’s time to move on. No deer today, dear. I don’t mind at all. Wildlife watching is as much about the hope as the experience.
The walk back is lovely: on up the hidden valley; across the stepping stones that separate the upper pond from the stream; up the steep bank and back past the Hansel and Gretel cottage.
I feel refreshed and so pleased that I overcame the apathy and went. I’m a couple of hundred yards from the final steep climb back to the village when suddenly, almost immediately to my right, there’s a crashing sound. This time it’s unmistakeable.
Two deer: four big eyes, four big ears, two huge black noses. Gingery bodies on impossibly spindly legs. We look at each other for quite some time from no more than 20 yards apart. Every few minutes one of us takes a few paces. We look back again. Eye contact, recognition of another living being. To add to the magic, the sun makes its first appearance of the day. As I walk away at last, one of the deer is silhouetted in the sunlight against the grass-filled field at the boundary of the woods. We exchange one last look.
Back in the village, the world feels a sunnier place. I exchange greetings with an elderly lady stopping to take off her cardigan in the sudden burst of heat. We laugh about the vagaries of the weather. I meet a neighbour and over his gate we share stories of our current struggles: I had no idea we were experiencing some of the same issues.
Transforming, uplifting, glorious. If you go down to the woods today I can’t guarantee any big surprises, but I can pretty much promise you’ll come back feeling better than when you left.