Down the side route and across the tracks. Over the wall and under the barbed wire. I could have gone in the regular entrance.
So I’m in and it feels great. I feel like a poacher, slipping in through the back door, quietly laying my snares and heading off again.
Instantly my eye is drawn towards mounds of fresh soil where foxes have been digging. I peer into a hole almost large enough to fit into and draw my head back for fear a wild animal will jump out at me. The sunshine was in my eyes through the trees and dozens of silky cobweb strands floating just above the ground, shimmered in the light like water from a distance.
Train track to deer track I’m shuffling my way along the hillside, happy to stay out of view and hoping to see something not everybody will. I’m staying close to the treeline, always looking for a way in. Then I see the skeleton of a long dead tree, chopped up, left in place and looking eerie. As I got closer I see the bare earth which makes me think that this is a deer hangout. I like the idea of hanging out myself for a bit, so climb up and sit on a sycamore branch, extended out arm-like at 90 degrees to the trunk, as if flexing a non existent bicep. I sit there for a while and feel decidedly not part of the landscape, having mistakenly thought that this would be a good place from which to observe deer and they’d never notice me. I felt like massive, feast-foiling vulture, too big to go unnoticed, too slow to catch a meal for itself.
After a few minutes observing the flies hovering in what’s left of the leaf canopy, it’s quiet enough to acknowledge the wind’s white noise in the foliage. Hollow, awkwardly tumbling, dead sycamore leaves detach their wilted selves. It becomes a head-turning sound, alarming at first. Amazing how the senses can so quickly home in on a sound. First the ears, then the eyes to confirm it’s no danger. Each leaf is zapped by my eyes before it hits the grass.
I then thought about the leaf in its prime, gently bowing and waving in supple splendour in a summer breeze, eating up the light to make more tree. This breeze comes in waves, each one plucking a few more leaves, like the wind-tide’s coming in to cover the bare tree in its cold winter coat. It makes me think about time and change and how it always just happens and how we take that for granted. What effort does a tree put into this change? What if winter never came? Worse still , what if spring didn’t come back?
Then I hear a muffled throaty grunt in the rhodedendron to my right. I get a bit nervous and I suddenly feel really exposed and I started to ask myself if a stag in rut could reach me in this tree with its antlers. I also thought that my not-so-subtle seating position wasn’t a great spot from which to observe and would just annoy them. The grunts turned into groans. I imagined hundreds of deer waiting for me, but behind the perfect rhodedendron cover they were completely invisible. I hopped off the tree and headed uphill, keeping an eye out for mushrooms along the way
Again I find myself staying away from where the public would be walking. I’m looking for woods but every bit I approach has deer fence around, unclear from a distance. Am I being kept out of the woods? Is it really for the deer? A feeling of claustrophobia was growing and every time I changed direction I felt more corralled. Inevitably, I was drawn in towards the Big House as if all the fences were outstretched arms, beckoning me in for a cold-stone cuddle. I managed to duck out of it though and I followed a smaller path which took me towards more woods.
The overhanging branch of a giant beech gently stroked the top of my head as if telling me I was on the right path. I felt its reach and the size of this huge tree. The gentleness of my connection with it was reassuring. All woods fenced off, I climbed over.
Then I was into the crackling heart, the place I wasn’t meant to be walking in. Am I disturbing wildlife by being here? Am I upsetting the balance? Now I was fenced in I was part of it. I felt suddenly more calm and wondered whether I would meet any deer in here. I scanned the ground for plants and mushrooms, thinking I might be treated to some inkcaps or maybe even a penny bun. Here there were great pine trees strewn around like kindling, on top of each other, years of storms and splintering leaving remains to climb over, walk along and wonder about. There were a couple which lay across a gully which I thought I’d brave and walk across but when I got there they were either too steep or too overgrown. Maybe I was too scared. I didn’t have to walk for long before hitting the fence again but being inside made me feel better. Without permission, making my own path and finding my own pleasure, not the prescribed one.
I sat on a long, straight pine trunk, whose Grand Canyon, furrowed and cracked bark was easy to climb on and sit for a while. I tried to clear my mind. Sitting still was great as it allowed the creatures around to relax a bit and even forget that you’re there. And the creature in me was calming a bit. The searching part of me subsided and the being part came through a bit. On a nearby trunk a robin flew in and flitted about, caught in the sunlight. Then a wren flew in and they were both on the same trunk, just for two seconds. I felt a flutter inside me and the whole scene and the light began to take on a different, golden colour. The idea of being there and being part of that scene was so fulfilling. I felt that connection like reality was bending to accommodate a new picture of what was for me; a new experience of the wild. It only lasted a second or two but it was real.
I started to think about which train I’d get back home and was answering texts arranging to see someone later that afternoon. How long could it have lasted? I slid off that giant log and headed back toward the fence. I was gone.
I felt hungry and a bit weak as I started back. I had about half an hour walk back to the train and after 10 minutes I was getting a sweat on. I realised I was enjoying the hunger and weak feeling and, knowing I wasn’t far from food, it drove me on. The cool breeze reached through my clothes and chilled my skin. That also felt great, knowing I had a layer in my rucksack I could use when I wanted.
For that moment the cold and hunger were reassuring as was the feeling the vulnerability of my body. When the sun came out I was buffeted by warm blasts as autumnal heat bounced off the long grass.
I crossed paths and made a pact not to acknowledge another person until I hit tarmac. It didn’t feel right to. When I got to the gate I was back in my mind, although immediately somewhat confused, sharing the drive with drivers and then out on to the deafening road.