The Magic of Trees

After a week spent in the beautiful Abernethy Forest in the Cairngorms, I am relaxed and refreshed. Returning home is like leaving behind a bubble where I’ve been protected from the trials and bustle of normal life, a place where I am removed from the real world, a place where I’m closer to… what?

To be honest, I’m not sure. Woods and forests are strange, beautiful environments, with an atmosphere of their own, which is increasingly alien to us in the modern world. It’s also an atmosphere which changes continually. One minute, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, you are bathing in a green oasis, soothed and caressed by the peace. Then, the sun goes in, a breeze picks up and you shiver. The birds are silent and the creak and rustle of the trees speaks of unknown terrors hidden in the shadows. You are being watched.

As a young girl, I remember walking alone, on a familiar path, beside a Cumbrian beck. I was wandering, lost in thought, enjoying the sunshine on a perfect summer’s day. I opened the old wooden gate to follow the path into the woodland, and stepped through as the sun went behind a cloud. From nowhere it seemed, the wind began to gust and the mood changed. I remember standing stock still, frightened, for the first time ever in that place. I do not know what I was frightened of, I simply knew I should go no further. I turned back through the gate and the wind dropped; all was well.Convinced I was imagining things, I persuaded myself to try once more, but a few steps into the wood, it happened again. There was a sense of something being not quite right. I turned round and made my way home.

I’ve walked that path many times since, soaking up the peace and restorative qualities of a typical English woodland. I’ve no idea what happened, but I’ve always felt that I was being warned. Something was not welcoming me that day.

It is, of course, the mysticism and fear of the unknown that attracts us to the wilderness. It is easy to believe the legend of Merlin, in his madness, wandering through the ancient Caledonian forest. This tale inspired me to write a short story, ‘The Twinflower’ while on a previous visit to Abernethy, which I will post here shortly.

I will always love woodland though. Remember how Mole, terrified by the Wild Wood, eventually found sanctuary and warmth in Badger’s home, in ‘Wind in the Willows’?  In fairy tales the woodland might be a place where dangers lurk, but it is also a place of refuge; and in Hundred Acre Wood, we wander happily with Pooh and friends, playing Poohsticks by the stream.

The language of the trees both soothes and warns us. The wildlife enchants and unnerves in equal measure. That is why woodland will always feature in children’s literature, to inspire the imagination. We must not let these magical places become totally alien to our children, they need to be taught how important and precious woods are, and to respect them and the creatures that live there. Then the wilderness will welcome them, into its incredible, enchanting world.

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