Carolann Samuels on a walk in the woods



The Forest Breathes Beneath Me and Around Me

There is birdsong; there's always birdsong. And there are other sounds, but below the level that I can hear. I always want to learn the birds' songs, but I never want to devote the time to the learning. Some I know: when I see the robin sing with his whole body or the blackbird on the tip of the longest branch in the fading light or the blue tit in the ivy. I know these.


As I stand immobile, I want to say that I can hear glimpses of the other sounds. I want to be able to hear the rustle of a hedgehog, the slight twitch of a fox and the pad of a deer. This is why I still myself.


To reach this part of the forest, I had to pass through part of an old plantation of fir trees, leafless until they are at least two houses high. Their spindly lower branches were bare until near the top, where newer growth cast shadows over almost everything below. I shuddered, feeling a chill creep through me like a snake in the undergrowth. But I knew where I was going, and less than five minutes later, after crossing a path wide enough for a tractor, I went into a woodland of native trees. No, rather, they drew me in and enfolded me.


It was such a contrast. Shafts of sunlight through overhead leaves made shadow pictures on the ground. The weather had changed: stillness had given way to northern blasts and a drop to something like nine degrees Celsius. A particularly strong blast of wind shook every tree and I was amazed to see that, while the tall trees swayed perilously at the top, the trunks at my level stood solid. I leaned against two or three and couldn't feel even a tremor of movement. Branches and leafy twigs cracked and tumbled all around me. The sound of the wind in the trees and the delicate collisions of perhaps millions of leaves obliterated all other sound, until, when there was a pause, the eerie sound of the wind vibrating electricity pylons infiltrated the forest.


There are no chainsaws in this part of the wood. I content myself with picking my way through a path that looks more often used by animals than people, and, in just a breath, I find the joy that is in luscious mounds of moss inviting me to touch them. They are bog-like, keeping what's beneath them wet and making a home for woodlice and slugs, rotifers, tardigrades, nematodes and other creatures with mossy names. Toppled trees give themselves to Earth after they have nurtured the mosses and fungi during the trees' lifetimes, and then allow fungi and mosses to reclaim them. How beautiful they look as they do this, but no artist could fully capture it: how the moss feels, the smell of disturbed dead leaves, the sound of a fallen branch snapping beneath my foot. I think that the closest would be a sound recording, but even that is likely to only invoke memories, which, as we all know, are precarious, subjective, fallible.


There's a part of me that wants to believe that the forest creatures are observing me, just out of curiosity. But really this is a place to feel what's beneath my feet and allow myself to grow down into that. It's a place to feel the forest breathing beneath and all around me, and the forest and I, breathing each other's breath. It's a place to attempt to stretch my hearing so that it hears new sounds, whether or not I can consciously hear them. And it's a place to rest my eyes on the full spectrum of colours. Bluebells call to me from a distance, their purple-blue unmistakable and their smell lingering in my memory from one year to the next. Just another miracle.



As well as writing, Carolann also works with clay. She has practised yoga all her adult life and has taught it for over 20 years. You can find her on Instagram here: carolannsamuelsceramics. Also at carolannsamuelsceramics@gmail.com and focusing.org.uk/member-profile/carolann-samuels.

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