Beyond the hazel coppice…

It is a lovely bright morning, the calm before storm Imogen. I set out to try and retrace my steps from last year when I happened upon a long tunnel of ancient hazel coppice.  Hazel, a lovely sounding Corylus avellanas in Latin, is a mythical tree which if coppiced can last several hundred years. It’s bendy, malleable rods can be used for water-divining or keeping away evil spirits, and its nuts were once carried as charms. Hazel has lots of benefits for wildlife and is particularly associated with our treasured dormouse but also for moths, butterflies and ground nesting birds such as nightjars, willow warblers and yellowhammers who benefit from the habitat hazel coppice creates.

I am in a pensive mood as I stroll out from the village of Ashmore not far from the Dorset / Wiltshire border. Here the landscape has a different feel to the rest of Dorset, wide open rolling hills, high ridges and a sense of height and space.  Open landscapes take the gaze away from the specific and out towards the horizon; perhaps that is why I find myself pondering the bigger picture…

Three weeks earlier I had had the misfortune to fall and fracture my tailbone the day before leaving for a field trip to Sumatra (see the wildlife travels section of my website). Coping with the discomfort when trekking through the forest or travelling the long distances had been really challenging and had diminished the enjoyment that such travel can bring. Today, still nursing the injury, I tentatively walk up the hill and wonder how on earth I had coped with the pain.

Quite often circumstances and events in our lives don’t make any sense until we look back at them over time. All the decisions, the cross-roads, the people, the missed and taken opportunities, the wrong turns, the right turns, the joy and the sadness order themselves into a meaningful sequence once time has rolled on.  ‘If we hadn’t have done that then we wouldn’t be doing this’ etc etc.  Then I thought about the constants; the things that accompany us through all these twists and turns, and realise that for me this constant has been my love of nature.  It has been my companion and friend whenever in need. And so it was in Sumatra. The moment I felt down or in pain, I would raise my gaze and see the way the light shone through the forest, the numerous butterflies, the colourful funghi, or the industrious termites; then all would be well and I would realise how rich and bountiful my life had been and that I was indeed one of the lucky ones; uplifted I was able to press on regardless.

Aside of these thoughts, my subconscious somehow remembered the way past shady valleys and dark pine trees and eventually to this secret hazel tunnel. Yellow catkins glittered high against the clear blue sky and at least six pairs of bullfinch noisily grouped beyond the hazel canopy.  I had never seen a whole flock before. I followed the path which led to the edge of the woodlands and once again out into the grassy openness that so characterises Wiltshire.  Up above me red kites and buzzards swooped and soared; a kite coming low and parallel to my path; it’s beautiful russet plumage shimmering in the bright light. A sparrow hawk disturbed a parliament of rooks who scooped high and then low; dancing together and playing in the updrafts.  There were flocks of starlings, pigeons, fieldfare and redwing, two Mistle thrushes and a green woodpecker; all enjoying the breeze, the sunshine and the open space.

Dark clouds of the impending storm gathered on the horizon behind me. I upped my pace as best I could and made it back to the village before the onslaught of stormy rain became heavy. What a lovely way to spend a day, and yes, how uplifting.