Woodland in May

Grassy area of woodland, with an encouraging number of tree seedlings.

The woodland has been transformed this month by the growth of understory plants, and leaves on the trees.

We have tried to improve the footpath in places, removing brambles along the edge before the weather got too hot to wear protective clothing, and removing some blackthorn so it could return to its original line in one section rather than along the drainage ditch! Numbers of walkers have massively increased, as might be expected, luckily it dried out just in time to cope with this many feet. There is a lot more to do along here, but probably in little bits now until the autumn.

I have been pleased and relieved to see that where I have removed brambles, they have mostly stayed removed. Just the odd shoot I missed or that broke off to deal with. There is a small patch of woodland not far from us where I noticed a dramatic reduction in brambles earlier this year, and some new trees being planted, all well protected. Two months on, the brambles are as dense with new sprouts as the untouched areas of our woodland – I can only assume they were strimmed to ground level and have now all grown back!

I have also been going along sycamore stumps removing fresh shoots emerging from the bases. Not all stumps have shoots, but we always knew some may need more serious treatment. They are getting hard to see in the lush undergrowth of hogweed and herb bennet in that area.

The hazels and yews I planted are doing well, glad they were not quite minimum size or they would be covered! They have got through the last bit of winter wet anyway, now I have to hope they can cope with drought!

We have found a few large white and brown feathers that are probably from a buzzard. I have had reports from walkers (and can see the evidence) that they use our logpile as a perch.

Woodland Beginnings

Yes, definitely mother to a few hundred trees… (see An Orchid Sign, last month.) They have been invading my thoughts, my dreams, all wanting attention. As the year turns it definitely seems like perfect timing, and I am ready for this now – after spending a couple of years being really confused about what I was ‘supposed’ to be doing. Amazing, to just have that sense that I am doing exactly what I am meant to be doing. I now realise this is what my life has been leading up to. I would be there all the time if I could, just loving whatever I am doing there, but the stormy weather has ensured I spend time getting things done at home on wet days and keeping myself in balance rather than wearing myself out.

This is part of a small woodland that was planted on a coal mine as restoration in the late 1990s. According to old maps there was some woodland here before the mining of the 1960s-80s, but not the same shape as what was replanted. The soil may have been imported, the trees were planted as young whips, (we have lived here long enough to have seen them when tiny) and the site was then pretty much left. How the tree planters chose what they did is unclear, although the majority of trees are native. We have (in approximate decreasing order) oak, ash, lime, alder, birch, sycamore, hawthorn, field maple, dogwood, blackthorn, rowan, cherry, hazel and willow. Some areas have a few of the same type grouped together, others are all mixed up. All of it is overgrown and hard to access.

I have had the advantage of a year of visits to give me a starting point, so I made a plan that I would remove brambles in the areas where they weren’t that dense yet, and try to map what was there to enable me to create a master plan to work towards, much as I have done in our small garden. However, a day or two before the woodland became ours, I had a strong feeling that we should remove the sycamores. I just realised they felt cold to me, quite different from the feeling I got of warmth and light from all the other trees in the wood. Odd that, because I actually quite like sycamores in many places and their timber can be made into many things, being fast growing, light and straight grained. The problem with sycamores is that they have huge leaves which block the light at all levels, and where sycamores grow native species tend to give up. There are enough sycamore woodlands in this area already, here there is an opportunity to do something different if we act fast while most trees only have a diameter of 4 inches or less. And since we need to thin the trees out somehow it makes the choices much simpler.

Therefore my first job has been marking sycamores before they loose their leaves and are harder to identify at a distance – at this age their trunks are often remarkably similar to ash or alder, both of which grow here, although a quick touch gives me the different energy immediately and with practice they become obvious by sight as well as feel. I am glad to say this is creating some small clearings which already feel good, while M is happy that she can do some den building with the branches. The piled up logs now make an excellent place to sit for lunch! Next year I might plant some hazels where there are spaces, given the lack of understory planting at present.

I have managed a bit of bramble bashing, but they seem to grow out of puddles in this weather! Also all the wet weather has shown an urgent need to clear the drainage channels that were created on planting so that they work again – easy and fun where I have cleared the brambles, but trying to do the odd bit of drainage work around even thin strands or bramble or dogrose left me with more cuts and splinters. I’ll learn. Currently my future plans look likely to involve a lot more willow to make use of the excess water, or else a pond!

Reflections

Janus looks both ways, forwards and backwards, reminding me that both matter. So as the new year begins, I am reflecting back on how much is different to what I had imagined. I have written already about my tendon injury. While it continues to heal, I have changed. I am no longer dreaming of all the physical things I hope to achieve; instead I am grateful for each thing or outdoor experience that does happen. Possibly this is self-defence, in that I don’t want to get my hopes up again. Yet I have found an inner peace and happiness in just being. I no longer feel there is always more I could or should be doing.

My rhythms are constantly changing, dictated to me by outside forces. A year ago I promised to meditate more; had I not managed this I would be lost. Yet within that there are times when I have plenty of meditation space, and other days or weeks that feel crowded by activity. Somehow everything gets done, even if never in the way I plan it.

Writing is something I have long dreamed of spending more time doing, and yet when I had three weeks of enforced hip rest and no interruptions I quickly ran out of things to say. Staring at a blank page of fiction suddenly felt self-indulgent and I realised my family needed me. I no longer need to prove to myself that I am ‘somebody’ because I write; I have a job as a homemaker, decorator, gardener, seamstress, cook, mother, lover … and am loved and valued for it. Even my blog has taken second place at times – if I didn’t have something to say that fits the very broad definition of either pagan or crafting, then I decided to ease up on myself. Once or twice a month is sometimes what I can manage, if I am concentrating on other things.

Looking back, there are two things that have changed me. One was realising my happiness depended on what stories I told myself. I had the power to be happy or not in any situation, depending on how I interpreted it for my conscious self. (See my comments about happiness under Samhain Quilt in October 2017.) The second was some recent journeying experiences of being some kind of woodland elf. Most people have had past lives, to which windows are sometimes opened, usually revealing a previous human existence or series of existences. Mine, so far, are not. They are of living as an advanced elemental in freshwater, or in woodland, the two environments I am most at home in, that give healing to me just by being there. (Unlike the ‘seaside / blue skies’ pictures or holiday places generally recommended to get healing and calm.) I do not fully understand these memories / experiences yet so haven’t written much about them (the first was 2-3 years ago, most were 2-3 months ago), but I am wondering if this life I am now in is about learning to be a human being. I often feel myself in this life as a hazel tree going off in all directions with no strong central trunk, but all weaving together to build a strong support. I would often prefer to be single minded, an expert at something, yet this is never the way things work out and it doesn’t seem to matter. Believing what I now do it makes some kind of sense and also deepens my love and respect for the Great Spirit that is in everything and knows all.

So looking forwards, I have no plans, and no strong desires. I will simply trust that everything comes in its own time, and that there is more to come.
If there is one challenge to set myself this year, it is to love more, to see the good in everyone and every situation, even when I am not feeling calm inside. In other words, be a good human being.

Finding Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts are one of my favourite foods to forage. At first I see nothing. Then little nuggets of gold seem to appear on the ground. Not many, and frequently hidden by long grass and brambles, but walk back and forth over an area by a nut tree and more seem to emerge from the undergrowth until before I know it, I have managed to fill a pocket. A few days later I will do it again.

The timing seems to be critical with hazels, and some years I have missed them altogether. Early falls are hollow, rejects by the tree. Later ones get eaten or lost within a day or two of falling. Reaching them for picking directly from the tree is rarely possible; the trees near me grow tall and nuts form at the extremities, so the only way is to watch and wait, and keep visiting the same trees every few days. In small ways I am lucky however, as the three trees I mostly pick from are in a line along a field boundary between a cow field and a playground and I can walk along both sides of two of the trees. Also they ripen in succession so if I miss the first tree I may get the second or third. And thanks to their open location few squirrels seem to have found them – the other trees around my village rarely produce any nuts without holes and trying to find uneaten ones amongst the debris of empty shells is a frustrating task.

Freshly picked hazelnuts

Freshly picked hazelnuts

The photo shows one day’s picking. So far, a six out of six success rate for finding nuts inside … but given the pale colour of some released still with their calyxes attached it is unlikely that I will get 100% fill rate. I never do. But I enjoy eating the nuts fresh, or shelling a batch and toasting them so they may be stored, for sprinkling over my breakfast or just nibbling for a snack. The difficulties in getting hazelnuts at least doubles the appreciation, and reminds me why they cost so much more than almonds.

It also amazes me every autumn how the catkins are already forming on the trees, ready for winter and then next year’s flowers and fruit. As we approach the Autumnal Equinox, ready to start the cycle again, the hazel tree is already there ahead of me.

Hedgecutting

I am trying an experiment this year – to cut our mixed hawthorn hedge twice, instead of once. This weekend we have managed to complete the first cut, having started it two weeks ago. I’m glad to say that this year the birds finished nesting by then; some years we would not have been able to start in June! (Garden warblers usually seem to be the latest here, but I haven’t been hearing them this year.)

It has been interesting to see the different behaviours of the plants by changing the timing. While starting only about six weeks earlier than normal (yes it often takes us two weekends to do the whole thing, since we have to cut both our side and the ‘track’ side where the footpath runs) it was noticeable how much softer the hawthorn was and therefore how much easier it was to shred. However, the holly was so soft though that it kept clogging up, and the hazel, separated out to be composted, was definitely easier when woodier. But the first cut with most of the hazel has virtually made compost already, in just two weeks.

There is another aspect however which makes me glad to change our practice. I have been gradually trying to grow the hedge out wider on the track side, in order to protect the bank against inappropriate use of strimmers and weedkillers applied by other track user(s). By keeping the edge neat and cutting a little off more frequently, the hedge is starting to thicken up on that side. It was really encouraging to see the return of cow parsley this year for the first time in about a decade. There are also a few other wildflowers, besides the predictable nettles, brambles and stickyweed trying to keep humans at bay, and a large quantity of ivy helping to stabilise the soil. I am hoping these will all flourish in a more protected space.

Making Mushrooms

It has been half term here this week, so all normal activities were suspended. Instead we have been getting seasonally creative with as many craft activities as I could come up with… This is the first wood carving I have done since M was born. I have had the wood for some years, so it was well seasoned and definitely needed a mallet to carve! I did the two small ones first to see if I could make something I was happy with; both were carved from a hazel branch about 1.5” diameter. The larger mushroom was from Silver Birch, about 4” across or so. This was rather softer, and when cutting with the grain to form the stalk, it split rather satisfyingly. It is just tool finished, using a skew chisel. I would probably make the stalks thinner next time…

Hazel and Silver Birch Mushrooms

Hazel and Silver Birch Mushrooms

Here they are forming part of my Samhain display.