As we descend deeper into winter, the sunlight hours are in short supply so the woodland wildlife winds down, burrows under and takes shelter; it’s not just us humans that need the sun to thrive. We need the light for our wellbeing, for healthy bodies and happy minds but while the woods appear to be sleeping, we can still wrap up warm and reacquaint ourselves with nature. We can rebuild the connections that soothe the stresses of life and develop our instinctive responses to the changing seasons. It’s time to slowly stroll, side-by-side with the surroundings and take a look at the wonders of winter.
As the pace of life crawls along, take your time to saunter through the trees. Look around. What’s on the ground? It’s not a barren winter-scape. Emerald green moss and delicate, fragile bryophytes have their chance to shine bright. Now the lush summer plants have faded, the ever-reliable woodland carpet is there for our comfort. If you accept their invitation into the woodland world of miniature wonders, you can be transported to another life-giving place.
Do you have a favourite place in the woods? Go there. Smell the clean the air – breathe deep. There is more fresh air here in the Teign Valley than you could wish for. The lichens tell us this. Some species that grow in these woods will only tolerate the purest air. This is where to come to fill your lungs, purge the pollution and leave the traffic behind. There’s no road rage here. While you absorb the atmosphere, listen to the river and take a mesmerising journey, allowing your eyes to follow the fallen leaves downstream.
Sounds are muffled in the cold air. The distant squawk of the squabbling jay or the chip-chip-chip of the great spotted woodpecker will find their way through the wintry woods. Stop to listen to the chilly breeze in the tree tops. You may hear the quiet chit chat of the winter birds searching for food morsels in the canopy. The chatter of the chaffinch, followed by bustling goldcrests. There is the almost constant companionship of long tailed tits, in groups of eight or ten or more; so beautiful to watch as time ticks quietly by. But then, the peace is finally punctured by the sharp, pointed call of the wren; the tiny bird packed with big attitude.
While all appears to be dormant in the winter woods there is a sense of anticipation. The buds on the trees are set, waiting for spring, forecasting the longer days to come. The catkins of the alder and hazel await their chance to burst into life, releasing pollen for receptive flowers and introducing a buzzing new chapter in woodland life. These darker days are full of inspiration. Look closely and lift your spirits in admiration of the wild world around us. The deep mid-winter is nearly over and as John Muir, the adventurer and explorer wrote, “The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.” Maybe, with your new Christmas jumper, you could do the same and soothe yourself gently into the New Year with a walk in the woods.
by Matt Parkins