‘Now I am traversed by bridle paths, under the seal of sun and shade … I live in great density … Shelter lures me. I slump down into the thick foliage … In the forest, I am my entire self. Everything is possible in my heart just as it is in the hiding places in ravines. Thickly wooded distance separates me from moral codes and cities.’
René Ménard, ‘Le Livre des Arbres’, quoted & translated in Gaston Bachelard’s ‘The Poetics of Space’
If you had asked me when we first moved here in April, I would have told you that I lived in a bramble thicket. Like some wistful, ageing Briar Rose — ensorcelled not in a castle, but in the run-down grounds of a delapidated 1970s bungalow.
Now that I’ve watched through four months of relentless growing and greening, I would tell you that I live in a wood.
What called me here was a wood.
There are silver ladies in my wood: tall, stately birches, their ageing bark deeply scored with black. Birch is the first tree in the old Ogham alphabet: the tree of beginnings, of rebirth. There is willow too, and holly, and a scattering of baby rowans fetched in on some fitful breeze. This is a witching wood: dark green ivy wrapped around hawthorn; white-faced bindweed snaking through the brambles which guard the threshold to the wood-world beyond. It is a healing wood, too — with yarrow for your wounds, mint for your digestion, sweet violet to ease the breaking of your heart.
What called me here was a wood: night-calls of the stalking fox, early-morning encounters with the badger at the gate. My wood is haunted by magpie and crow, it’s a breeding-ground for goldfinch. Tread carefully on the winding path that we have forged through it, for clouds of speckled wood butterflies will dart up from the wildflowers, just inches away from your feet.
In the beginning was the Wood. ‘When I was but a young lass,’ said the Cailleach — the divine old woman who made and shaped this land — ‘the ocean was a forest, full of trees.’ And I am reminded of the wise words of my friend, activist and garden designer Mary Reynolds, who told me once that all land, left to its own devices, wants to become wood. This wood into which I, seed-like, have blown is on its own path of becoming: a path which grows thicker and greener with every year that it is not cleared or ‘managed’.
I will allow my wood to become wood, and weave myself, wood-wife and weed-wife, into that becoming.
High in the loft-space of the church-like room in which I now work, an enormous moon-window looks out into the wood.
To the front of the house, its mirror looks over the loch. I am caught between wood and water, in a web of my own making. Not ensorcelled, so much as … apprenticed.
Conamara — it was only ever Conamara. Wood and water, sea and stone. And the misty Maamturk Mountains which so long ago captured my heart, drawing me on through the thickets to the reward which waits in the farthest corner of my wood.
For here is the thing about dark, deep woods: if you find yourself a true (if occasionally twisted) path through, and if you tread that path lightly with faith and love; if you throw yourself down into bottomless wells, let the laughing river carry you away and never, ever give up dreaming — you might just find your heart’s desire on the other side.
‘We all have forests in our minds. Forests unexplored, unending. Each one of us gets lost in the forest,
every night, alone.’
Ursula K. Le Guin,