The harvest is gathered, the dry weather making harvesting more predictable than in most English summers. The converse, of course, is that there is little fresh grass for stock, so farmers are already beginning to use their winter feed as they wait, much as those of us with rapidly being dehydrated gardens do too, for rain. Meanwhile climate protesters gather in their millions on the beaches, stripping off to beat the sea, jumping on it and raging against the sun, ironically protecting themselves with gallons of oil which floats like a scum along the shoreline. The sea of course just waves and carries on, maybe foaming a little at the edges…
Meanwhile the trees stand quietly whispering to each other of breezes, light dappling through leaves in a myriad of colours from pale gold through to a deep green. Here and there a brown tint shows as the first signs of autumn appear, but much of this colour is remnants surviving from last autumn. On the floor of the woods the thick carpet of fallen leaf is still lying, occasionally restless, blown past with a gust of wind, but generally just mellowing as it crumbles into the rich loam of the woodland floor.
At first it is the greens contrasted with the lightness of duns and ochres in the surrounding farmland that catches my eye. In the adjacent meadow the long grass is almost a Naples yellow whilst the oaks stand still garlanded in the dark Hookers green of their leaves, each tree a community, each carrying a myriad of reputedly over 2 million life forms, insect, bird and small mammalian creatures living and feeding with in their majestic canopies. I remember reading that they ‘talk’ to each other through their root systems that stretch out further than the spreading leaf canopies. However hard I listen though all I hear is the chuckle of their leaves in the lightest of breezes
I stand on the edge of the wood but even such a short stroll has caused my arthritic bones to start aching, so I amble into the wood further looking for the inevitable fallen log to sit on and just enjoy the whispering that goes on between the trees. Once as I sat a little owl hooted at me, but although I could sound-locate the origin it wasn’t until I was home and scanned the photographs pixel by pixel that I was able to see it in the leaves. As I settle down the whispering falls quieter and I sit in the silence looking up into the canopy.
The branches of the oaks twist like the bodies of serpents or legendary dragons, while the ash shoot straight up into the canopy. Birch leaves make a tracery like a William Morris wallpaper design – well the one from the Morris factory I had on the dining room wall of my last house, although it may have been designed by his daughter it seems. The beech with its smooth green trunks is a graceful peacemaker between these two and as I look up, neck creaking, I notice small holes with droppings staining their rims – they can only be woodpecker nests.
I begin to search the canopy for the lesser woodpecker. I am familiar with its black and white form, but the dashes of red should give it away in the flickering sunlight and shadow of the canopy. In searching I spot a tree creeper, but it moves too fast for me to bring the camera up in time. it is the mild drumming that I hear first that narrows down the search area for the woodpecker. My eyes start to track to where I think the sound is from. It is not colour that gives me the bird’s location, nor the sound, but its brisk movement as it climbs the tree, stopping occasionally to drum on a piece of bark in its search for food, that reveal it to me.
I point the camera, but as birds often do some sixth sense makes it move whilst I try to take a shot. Not up onto a nice patch of sun to give me some clarity, but around the tree completely out of site. When it does reappear, it has climbed even higher, and I almost miss it. I then miss the next moment when its mate appears and bullies it off the tasty piece of bark it has opened up. With my neck hurting from staring upwards for so long I settle for the images I may have and just watch the interplay of the two.
I visit the wood infrequently, but it is one of my favourite havens where I can feed my soul with its silence and beauty. Alongside the prints of my photographs of the sea defences from which so much of my painting has sprung in the last few years, sit a few of the images of the oaks. I have played with my tree images digitally, enjoying making a kind of facsimile of a hand-coloured Victorian steel engraving, but that’s just a playing around thing. Sussex is sucking me away from the coast perhaps, and maybe the woodland is the nascent beginnings of new work. I’ll not rush it, go with the flow as they say. After all what else should one do after talking to trees for an hour?