Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Woods - Sue Purkiss

Yesterday, I took our dog, Jess, for her usual morning walk. Instead of going up over the hill, as we usually do, we cut along the bottom, through a small wood. There's a special little clearing here - special because at this time of year, cowslips grow there. A little further on there is a patch of primroses: unusual in this part of the Mendips.

It was early morning. The sun shone through the trees and it was very quiet, very still. Something stirred in the undergrowth - a bird probably, or maybe a rabbit or a fox. Nothing remotely threatening.

As I walked on, I thought about another wood - well, not a wood, a forest: far away on the other side of Europe, in south east Poland, on the other side of the Carpathians. We were there last summer. The hills are much higher than the Mendips; when you climb up through the forest, you reach alpine meadows where great clumps of deep blue gentians grow, and mountains curve and dip like blue and lilac waves.

The forest is spreading. There used to be more villages in these mountains, but the villagers were forcibly removed in the war, some to Russia, some to other parts of Poland. Their homes have crumbled now, their fields and gardens are part of the woods.

The trees are tall, so light falls in columns. Some of them have a fierce kink at the bottom of their trunks; this is caused by heavy snowfalls when the trees are young. As far as you look, there are trees, dim into the distance. The path is wide, but if you strayed, it would be easy to lose your way. You could wander for miles and not see another soul. If you went up hill, of course, you would eventually come out into the open - but a small child might not think of that.

There are bears in these forests, and wolves. Real ones. We didn't see any, but we saw their leavings: paw prints and droppings, pointed out to us by Olek, the forester who was with us. He's a hunter, too. He cares for the forest creatures, but sometimes he shoots them.

This was the forest of the Grimm brothers' fairy tales: the forest of little girls in red cloaks, of gingerbread houses, of wolves, of huntsmen who may be heroes or villains, of beasts who may once have been men. Perhaps too, it's the forest of picture book stories where small creatures have great adventures, where the Gruffalo could be just out of sight, where safety is a cosy cave with a warm bed and a welcoming candle.

It was a shock to find out that it is a real place.


Mary Hoffman's Newsletter said...

How wonderful to have been in the actual forest populated by all those stories!

You describe it so eloquently, too. I feel I've been there - but then of course we all have, through the tales.

Ellen Renner said...

One of the first things that struck me on moving to the UK is how benign the landscape is compared with much of the rest of the world. It would be interesting to study how landscape affects the folk lore of a region.
Lovely post, Sue, thank you. I love the bit about the tree trunks shaped in infancy by the weight of the snow. Mostly coniferous, or mixed?

Sue Purkiss said...

Mixed, Ellen. I think the ones with the distorted trunks were beeches, but couldn't be certain.

Thanks for dropping by!

francesann said...

it's odd how deeply woods have got into our psyche. There's something immediately intriguing about a story that starts with someone going into the woods. I grew up surrounded by a suburban wood - found it very mysterious. It was in Norwood - which used to be the Great North Wood.

michelle lovric said...

Thank you for taking us on a walk, Sue. I feel quite refreshed and a pleasantly tired, and as if I deserve tea with scones and lashings of cream after all that exercise.

Stroppy Author said...

I'll come and have tea with you, Michelle!

Lovely post, Sue - thank you. I love the picture, too. I remember walking in the Black Forest in Germany as a child and realising I could get lost in about three paces. Nothing quite like it in the UK.

Sue Purkiss said...

Thanks, Anne!

Linda Strachan said...

Lovely Post, Sue!
I love walking in deep dark woods.

Count me in to the tea, too!

Penny Dolan said...

But is the tea in a gingerbread cottage, eh? specially if it is the deep dark wood as so well described?

Thanks for this post Sue!

Katherine Langrish said...

Oh, lovely, Sue! You transported me there. Now I want to go myself and see these dangerous fairytale woods.

Miriam Halahmy said...

The woods are so particularly beautiful at this time of the year in England. I've been in and out of woods all week, seeking bluebells. But now I want to visit the proper fairy tale woods. Lovely post Sue.

Lucy Coats said...

Very different from those Robert Frost snowy woods or those where Mole got lost--I think all woods are magical, and I certainly always want to write after walking in among trees. Great post, Sue.