Sunday, 18 May 2014

English Woods and Englishness.

I was in a wood this evening shortly before sunset, and I was struck by the fact that there’s something rather splendid about an English wood on a warm, calm evening in late spring. The new canopy above, bedecked by birdsong, and the burgeoning richness of wild undergrowth either side the path evoke a sense of timeless and unpretentious comfort. No human artifice here, just nature bestowing her bounty on a human scale.

I suppose the human scale is the secret of its charm. English woods are a far cry from the great forests of the world; they’re not places to struggle through in search of adventure on the grand scale. You’d be hard pressed to get lost in a lowland English wood, since most of them are really only copses of various sizes. And there are no big animals with sharp claws or teeth, nor snakes intent on poisoning or suffocating you to death. We mostly have squirrels.

We seem to have a taste for small things in England – on a personal level, that is. (If you think in terms of history, you’d have to think navies, empires and the Industrial Revolution, but on a personal level…) Big things are generally greeted with suspicion, especially those people with inflated egos whom we generally take great delight in knocking off their self-constructed pedestals. And, contrary to popular belief, we’re usually none too keen on strutting our stuff. I suppose it’s why we don’t often win things, except when it matters.

We’ll gather lilacs in the spring again
We’ll walk together down an English lane

Or through an English wood, if there’s one handy. There usually is.

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