6 January 2016
Something hungry moves in the trees
Guardian Country Diary, Wenlock Edge
by Paul Evans, first published in
The feeling of just being watched does not make this place eldritch. A strange, otherworldly, wood, it can feel unsettling at the best of times. Now there’s a chill to the east wind, and the year and the weather have changed. Something hungry moves in the trees.
There are eyes watching for that as they watch me, too. It feels like a tightening of the air, a narrowing of sightlines through tree cover so dense it is not possible to see more than 20 metres even where there’s a gap.
I take to tracks I rarely venture on, not just because they’re dangerous – they skirt pits and cliffs of limestone workings abandoned generations ago – but because this wood needs its secrets and the paths are not made by people.
As I slide down a clayey bank in the old spoil heaps, now an improbable spiny forest of gaunt hawthorns, many broken in recent gales, I feel the watchers and sense a contraction in the shadows above. Suddenly this separates into five shapes as a group of fallow deer break cover and run across a narrow ridge between two quarry faces. They make hardly any sound, they are fleet and wild and take great care in putting distance between us. They do not know not to feel danger from me.
These animals are so different from the fallow deer a few miles away at Attingham Park, possibly the place from where their ancestors escaped. In this deer park hundreds of visitors stand and watch a few metres from the herd. People walk by with dogs, gaze and take photographs, children ride bikes or run around and there are only a few notices suggesting visitors keep to the path as the herd munches the sugar beet put out at set feeding times.
The two herds – deer and people – share a line of proximity like a kind of mirror. Both stay watchful, each with hierarchies to consider and an unpredictable audience. Despite habituation, both have limits. The deer have an anxiety stronger than a mistrust of people here, an instinct to be wary of hungry beings in the woods. I share something like this, an uncanny feeling in the weird wood – an eldritch place.
Paul Evans is the author of Field Notes From The Edge, Journeys Through Britain's Secret Wilderness and Herbaceous:
Field Notes From The Edge a Journey into Britain's Secret Wild...through the in-between spaces of Nature – such as strandlines,mudflats, cliff tops and caves – where one wilderness is on the verge of becoming another and all things are possible.
Herbaceous is gardening with words. It is a book of audacious botany and poetic vision which asks us to look anew at our relationship with plants and celebrates their power to nourish the human spirit. - See more at: