Approached from memory rather than living in the moment, the wood stands as an island among a sea of furrows, differentiated from its surroundings in resisting the march of time. A tractor engine rumbles in the near distance, the aroma of hay and manure drifting on the breeze.
The enclosing arable land appears speckled with flocks of jade-backed lapwings and camouflaged curlews, viewed through the heat as it shimmers restlessly above the ploughed earth. A hen kestrel hovers in a sky that’s hazy but filled with the promise of a balmy afternoon to come. In the shade of a sycamore tree, a pair of loved-up little owls snuggle together on a fence post, oblivious to everything else. Foraging coneys run for cover as footsteps make the earth tremble, white tails disappearing amid the undergrowth. Secure in the canopy, a family of squirrels carries on bathing in the late morning sunshine.
The dirt track narrows as nettles and thistles seek to reclaim it. Among dense hedges of hawthorn, magpies chatter while fortifying the roofs of their nests.
To the left, the thorny barrier eventually relents, exposing the potato fields beyond. Pickers break their backs as they follow the tractor, old diddicoy women relentlessly set a pace that leaves the youngsters struggling in their wake.
The wood is a tangle of lesser trees and shrubs, devoid of towering beech or sturdy oak except for around its boundaries. Some broad, living stumps remain within, sprouting tendrils of pole-like branches, providing evidence of the coppicing long since abandoned. Between briar thickets, saplings vie for the open space; alder, ash, blackthorn, hazel and ivy, threatening to overwhelm the slow-growing holly. A venerable yew stands aloof, its trunk gnarled and twisted; a tree once held sacred in a time gone by – now forgotten.
The humid air is heavily laden with leaf mould and fungus and rotting wood. In pockets of sunshine amid the shade, clouds of midges swirl, while flute-like thrush song issues from the thickets, a haunting reminder of what once was.
Three boys enter the wood, stashing their kitbags in the junipers at its edge. They scout around till a small clearing surrounded by saplings is chosen as a camp. Moving on to a thicket, wood choppers cut and branches fall to be piled in a heap. The branches are soon interwoven between the saplings until the clearing disappears behind an encircling wall of foliage.
Satisfied with their labour, the boys go to collect their kit, laughing and joking all the while. They return to the heart of the wood and search for the camp, but the hideaway refuses to give itself up, leaving them scratching their heads in confusion.
The chorus of thrush song is rudely interrupted by the sound of a mocking jay.
The wood disappears, leaving me staring at the seemingly endless expanse of the Industrial Estate.
Just like the memory of the wood, I feel like I’m fading away.