Sunday, 14 November 2010

Genius Loci: The final mile

Now the valley broadens and the woodland becomes richer. The stunted and fantastically twisted oaks of the upper gill, trees that were almost bonsai due to the thin rocky soil and cold climate are replaced by the tall majestic trees of an established woodland. The sun has crossed to the west and throws golden pools of light onto the eastern slopes of the valley. In some places the bracken is still green, rocks are still warmed by the weakling sun and I imagine sleeping adders ruing the lost opportunity for one last meal before the torpor and living death of winter. But this is an illusion, as the sun is lost the woods are revealed for what they are; sleeping, silent places that have their own funereal beauty and grace but a grace that is to spring and high summer as the widow is to the bride.
By now the waters are moving through well kept fields, mowed by sheep and rabbits and enclosed by dry stone walls. The waters barely babble, they have lost the loud carefree manner they possessed in the wildness of their youth and now move with a self-conscious decorum. The place is no longer a wilderness. It no longer feels as if you have intruded on a place that is content to live apart from people, you are now moving closer to cultivation and civilisation. The woodland changes as well. Ash and poplar mix with the oak, alder and sycamore droop branches into the stream.
I walk through the final mile of woodland in regret and sadness. Climbing the last fence I pass a woman walking her dog along the single track road. We are miles from the nearest village, still deep in a rurality that most modern people can not imagine but to me, after the hours of perfect solitude I have just experienced, it feels like I am in a metropolis. At the place where I parked my car hours earlier there is now a jumble of vehicles parked on grass verges and blocking the access to the farm, cars and vans of the climbers that have come to boulder on the crags round about. A flock of fieldfares, hundreds strong, throng the valley. In their centre a single blackbird, a solitary local amongst an invading army. They strip the hawthorns and holly of their berries and now I see by their presence that winter is almost here and this will be my last visit to this place until the spring.

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