Sunday, March 16, 2014


I have had a really wonderful weekend.  It was a birthday treat from my husband – two days of plenty of stimulation, opportunities to write and constructive feedback from experts.

Day One was spent with the ladies at the Abriachan Forest Trust.  While I might have textbooks and dictionaries on the bookshelves at work, they have a stuffed badger, a variety of empty wasp nests, skulls and antlers on theirs. Where I have four walls, a selection of windows and a door they have 534 hectares of forest.

After a short writing exercise to warm up the creative juices, we were taken on a very slow walk through a kissing gate and along a forest path.  We went just a few hundred yards but it took a hour and a half.  Commentary ranged from naming trees to identifying the particular variety of lichen on the branches.  Every aspect of managing the forest was explained, not through looking at pictures in a book, but by wading through bracken and touching things.  Even the poo from a pine martin was unravelled with a twig,

It was more than fascinating.  I envied them their knowledge of nature and their interaction with it.  I felt almost ashamed that I knew so little.  I spent my childhood in a rural village, but spent far too much time re-enacting scenes from “Captain Scarlett” and not enough learning about the flora and fauna around me.

The first poem sprang from a phrase that echoed in my head. “It’s like learning a foreign language.” 

The Forest

I confuse wild cherries with willows
And mix up bark and bud
As I learn the language
Of a forest
I stumble over the nuances
Of celandine and buttercups
The young oak
Refuses to surrender
Its brown leaves
But the words I have learnt
Slip away on the breeze

Despite an introduction to different trees the knowledge was not transferable.  Just because I was told “this tree is a birch”, I didn’t seem to be able to recognise the other birch trees in the forest.

The conversation moved on to badgers.  A nearby slope was home to a badger set or two.  We had to take their word for it as we didn’t see any.

The conversation moved on to bikers.  Mountain bikers have made their own trails down the hill.  The women recognised that the forest is not theirs.  They have to share it with other groups of people.  They didn’t mind the bikers hurtling down the hill, but talked to them of places to avoid.  Bluebells barely above ground had been mown down and newly planted saplings had been knocked over.  They could have waggled a finger and spoken harshly but chose to talk to the bikers and offer advice about minimising the damage.

I hadn’t realised the conversation had moved on from the badgers.  Apparently the bikers can hurtle from the top of the hill to the bottom in four minutes.  Badgers? Thought I. Moving that quickly? I wasn’t the only one to miss the change in the conversation. The picture in my head demanded a poem.

The Badger Run

At midnight the badgers
dash down the hill
Leaping the boulders,
through bracken they spill
From top to the bottom,
In four minutes flat
I stand in awe of
Achievements like that

I missed having my husband walking beside me.  The idea of writing anything and sharing it with others brings him out in a cold sweat.  He would have liked the walk.  He would have liked the kissing gate.  Everyone would have been lined up and told to kiss the person coming through the gate.  He would have demonstrated with me.

Curious them that the gate prompted such a sad poem.   I tried to force the poem to be positive and uplifting but it wouldn’t cooperate.  I was at pains later to tell people that it was not about me and my husband.  We haven’t stopped kissing – at gates or in other places. Showing the poem to Joe when I came home, I was at pains to insist it wasn’t biographical.

No More Kissing

We have stopped kissing - you and I
Our life together - left to die
Trails we followed now overgrown
I hew through bramble knots alone

I really enjoyed the first day of the weekend.  The weather wasn’t great.  A little bit on the windy side. It was only as I was leaving the car park at the Forest Trust that I read the notice NOT to park in the car park.  High winds were felling tall thin trees and nowhere was really safe.  All that was missing was the giant and the giant’s bowling ball as far as the landscape went.  They were planning to take down some of the trees, but the wind got there first and didn’t consult them on the ones that needed to come down.

I shall never look at a forest path and ignore the trees around me.  In fact I shall buy a book of trees so I know what to look for in buds and bark and leaf shapes.

The variety of things and how they all live together in one space is so fascinating.  I see God’s finger prints everywhere.

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