Last night I took the senior dogs for a walk in a nearby wood. The dogs need quality time with me at the moment (it’s a puppy thing) and this is a particularly pleasant wood to stroll in. I have to trespass slightly to get into it, but I’ve never seen anybody else there and the wood doesn’t mind. Evening was coming on, and the shadows were deep and comfortable.
I’ve found that different woods have very different atmospheres – when we lived in Germany the endless pine forests felt ominous, as if there were a troll behind every tree. Then there are the bristly ones that don’t really want you there, and are packed with thorns and spikes. This particular wood is full of oak trees, some of them very old indeed. They are old enough to have seen knights in armour, and travelling friars, and minstrels singing of longing and love while plucking out tunes on a lute. Yeah right, reality check: in these parts they are more likely to have seen muddy peasants dragging home a yoke of oxen, but anyway the oaks go back a long way.
I was ambling along thinking about the times I have heard nightingales singing in the oaks in spring time and (without wanting to sound too fey) I had the most extraordinary feeling that I was among friends. I could have lingered for hours there, smelling that cold, wet winter smell and looking at the beautiful shapes of the branches against the the lilac of the early evening dusk. But I had the sheep to feed, the geese to shut and I knew that if I stayed Indie would wake up and start wailing from his little warm basket. As the dogs and I walked home, nothing fitted my mood as well as the words of Robert Frost, another of my all-time favourite poets: The woods are lovely, dark and deep,/But I have promises to keep,/And miles to go before I sleep,/And miles to go before I sleep.