The Start of Something

The other day, I was in a wood so beautiful I almost lost my way.

The water is black, not with shadows but with depth, and a steady flow tumbles over limestone. The sun is low. A bright carpet of yellow caresses the earth and, for a moment, everything is where it needs to be.

Except for one thing. Time.

Untethered and unstoppable.

In this perfect place, the world spins in a kaleidoscope of neon brights. The snap of my shutter. Trip-trap. Almost does it. A kind of peacefulness floats and eddies and swirls in the air. With a sniff, I breathe in a heady sense of freedom but my oxygen, this life-blood, will escape,  even if it is in the form of a long sigh that I try to make endless like the perpetual flow of a stream. If only this feeling of contentment might rest in my hand like a warm smooth stone of reassuring weight then I could tuck it into my pocket, a lucky talisman to carry with me on my journey, whatever might happen, wherever I may go, but is that wanting too much? All around me in this wood there are only leaves, a hundred thousand leaves, and like all the infinite moments of time, they shift like one being into something infinitesimally beyond my reach.

Paths are elusive in the glory of what might be but forced to look for what once was, I feel my way forwards. Beside a footbridge, a mother and daughter stand close, heads tilted towards each other. A smile warms their lips and they listen to my story and hear how I search for a signpost, a three-way signpost. Yes, they say, seemingly unsurprised, and with a guiding hand on my arm, the mother points to a stream on my map. They include me in their nod and see me strike out in a true direction, back over the narrow, rickety footbridge to where I first saw them, mirroring each other’s posture. I wave goodbye, warmed by their happiness.

And then it is my turn. An anxious dog owner spirals in ever-decreasing circles and the ghosts of the path are written in the tightness of her smile: the yell of a labourer, the thud of an axe hitting a tree, the smell of burning charcoal, the sting of smoke. Her eyes smart and when she asks for my help I lift her up in the palm of my hand and I set her high on the banks.

Arrows of light lift fallen leaves. All is bright and held in time. I shall return here to this place where everything is illuminated but for now I must be gone.

WM Blog Mayfield Woods leaf © Deirdre Huston

 

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Pooh Country and the High Weald

Spring Morning

“Where am I going? I don’t quite know.

Down to the stream where the king-cups grow –

Up to the hill where the pine-trees blow –

Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.”

from When We Were Young by A.A.Milne

Childhood books Pooh © Deirdre Huston

The High Weald Area of Natural Beauty is rich in history, literary connections and ecological habitats. For Day Walks on the High Weald, I’ve been researching a trail through ‘Pooh Country’, close to where A.A.Milne once lived, but if you can’t wait , Walk 4 in Sussex Walks  crosses ‘Pooh Bridge’, visits Hartfield and meanders along the edge of ‘Five Hundred Acre Wood’ . The wider landscape of the Ashdown Forest and High Weald helped inspire the much-loved collaborative works of A.A.Milne and E.H.Shepard, and, I’m interested in how we are undoubtedly influenced by our store of cultural references when we walk through the landscape.

E.H.Shepard, who was also responsible for illustrating the anthropomorphic figures in The Wind in the Willows, was a prolific painter and, like Milne, sometimes resented the fact that he was so well known for his children’s works but I wonder if they realised the extent to which their words and pictures would shape future generation’s perception of the natural landscape?

Look around the ‘enchanted places’ of the Ashdown Forest.  A wooden bridge over a Wealden stream? Think of Pooh Sticks. An oak tree? Does it have a door? Who might live there? And can Tigger bounce high enough to reach the lowest branch of a Scott’s Pine tree? If we are thinking about the stories,  we might consciously ask ourselves such questions, but Milne gave us much more. To my mind, the stories embody the landscape with a feeling of freedom, encourage us to question the world we live in and suggest we rise to challenges. They underline the importance of community because whether it is an interconnected ecosystem or a group of friends, without support, isolation is bleak. Winnie the Pooh was also one of the first to highlight the importance of honey and the ‘plight’ of the bumble bee!

In landscape photography, sometimes people feel a ‘good’ image is judged by the number of likes and key types of image are popular in online trends: pastel sunsets, blocks of ice on an Icelandic beach, long exposure seascapes and impressionistic ICM images all tend to meet with positive reactions but if we’re not careful, we’ll end up with a narrow view of the landscape. Why not look inside yourself to see what representations of the world you have squirreled away in that cultural store?   How about taking an image of a clump of trees or trying to capture the simplicity of a Wealden stream? The line between the ordinary and the extraordinary is a thin one.

An ordinary stream © Deirdre Huston