“And as he lay there panting and trembling, and listened to the whistlings and the patterings outside, he knew it at last, in all its fullness, that dread thing which other little dwellers in field and hedgerow had encountered here, and known as their darkest moment–that thing which the Rat had vainly tried to shield him from–the Terror of the Wild Wood!”
The sun came out today and the village was pristine with snow so after a mornings work I donned outdoor gear and set off to photograph the garden and the village, results on the Flickr stream in the panel to the left on this blog. With the sun low in the sky I set off up the hill at the southern end of the village and the path which leads up into the West Woods. I was targeting some shots of trees stripped bear, shadowed onto the snow. I timed it right and you can see one of the results there.
There was no one else in the woods, a hare started from a nearby thicket and tore away through the undergrowth, deer and a fox had passed before me along the track but no humans. There is a silence to a wood in winter that seeks attention and an immanence to dusk that quickens the soul. My mind wandered as it does I remembered the wonderful transitionary chapter three from Wind in the Willows. Mole, overconfident and frustrated at Rat’s prevarication sets out alone to visit Badger. Nothing alarms him on first entry, but then The dusk advanced on him steadily, rapidly, gathering in behind and before; and the light seemed to be draining away like flood-water. He quickens his pace, but then every hollow contains a face bearing glances of malice and hatred: all hard-eyed and evil and sharp. Finally he runs in panic finding refuge in the deep dark hollow of an old beech tree.
Once the imagination starts to wander in such a direction then it is not easily distracted. The West Woods are one of the last remnants of the ancient woods of Britain. They were here when the stones were raised at Avebury, the witnessed the Romans who settled this area with rich villas, the invading Saxons and the Normans who follow. They were the hunting preserves of the Plantagenets, the plague village of Shaws abuts the Wan’s Dyke on their southern boundary. That pedigree in history imparts mystery and I quickened my pace, gaining that sense of a presence that as the last rays of sunlight filter out of the trees as one in hald a mind as to wether to look behind one or not. Finally I came to one of the mid forest houses (Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame has a house here), and joined the Game Keepers track that leads out of the forest and back to the village.
Wind in the WIllows was still on my mind. Chapter 3, The Wild Wood is the first dark element to enter the book, it also contains one of the all time great pieces of comic writing known to all affectionados as the door scraper incident. This had to be read in context so I will not quote it here. However form the first time this was read to me as a bed time story, before the age of five it has never failed to bring tears of laughter to my eyes. It is one of the great children’s books of all time, and as all such do appeals to adults as well. It makes no compromise to children in language, none of the nonsensical dumbing down and trivialisation of more popular authors such as Enid Blyton or Ronald Dahl whose sales seem in inverse proportion to their quality. The language is almost as rich as the time of Marlow and Shakespeare, but is written in such a way as to allow the context to reveal meaning without interrupting the flow of a powerful narrative. This example. from the same chapter illustrates its quality.
Such a rich chapter it had been, when one came to look back on it all! With illustrations so numerous and so very highly coloured! The pageant of the river bank had marched steadily along, unfolding itself in scene-pictures that succeeded each other in stately procession. Purple loosestrife arrived early, shaking luxuriant tangled locks along the edge of the mirror whence its own face laughed back at it. Willow-herb, tender and wistful, like a pink sunset cloud, was not slow to follow. Comfrey, the purple hand-in-hand with the white, crept forth to take its place in the line; and at last one morning the diffident and delaying dog-rose stepped delicately on the stage, and one knew, as if string-music had announced it in stately chords that strayed into a gavotte, that June at last was here. One member of the company was still awaited; the shepherd-boy for the nymphs to woo, the knight for whom the ladies waited at the window, the prince that was to kiss the sleeping summer back to life and love. But when meadow-sweet, debonair and odorous in amber jerkin, moved graciously to his place in the group, then the play was ready to begin.
If you have not read it do, if you have children to read it to then you are twice blessed. Under no circumstances accept an abridged version. Chapter Seven, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is too often omitted by those too ignorant to understand its significance. However avoid the woods at dusk in winter.