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.