Look at those lights; it’s a big snake. Urchin the Elder had just emerged, along with the rest of us, from the darkening woods. Light was fading fast, gloaming we call it in these parts, and spread out before us was the increasingly twinkly panorama of the modern life that the ancient woods had held back.
The gorge above the river had never succumbed to either plough or axe, centuries of woodland. As we wandered the distant murmur of water rushing over rocks accompanied us. Stopping to look over the parapet of the bridge was like standing above a motorway, and all of a sudden the sound rose to us as, foaming around the boulders far below. Life leapt beyond the silence of the woods. What life was on the river bank today; alas too far, the light too poor.
We had again taken a trip to see those ancient oaks, catching the last hours of a fine, calm day. No flask of chicken soup this time, as I was reminded, just a quick stretch of the legs, a burst of fresh air.
Beyond those centuries old oak trees the paths dried out, and we found ourselves scuffling through forty shades of copper. Beech and sycamore added to the oak, churned to dark mulch between the hunting lodge and the earthworks. Above, pines stretched, straight and tall, bare most of the way to the canopy. Young, thin trees had fallen victim to periodic gales, old ones too, resting at acute angles; the fall arrested by the density of an army standing at attention. Where the roots had been lifted the stems managed to find their way to the ground, latticing the depths.
And on the ground thin beech saplings struggled to head slowly towards the light, crinkly now, above the carpet of pine straw. But it was the greenery that caught my eye, in the gloom, among the trees. Ferns; fresh yet, though their cousins in the open had succumbed to the early frosts. Splotches of bright emerald, occasional clusters of pale fungi. And in the background, water music.
The woods were quiet, no cooing pigeon, just the occasional burst of song, unidentified, as the path took us to the edge of the wood, bordering the fields where the sheep grazed.
The troll didn’t get us. Shhh, quick, run; if he wakes he’ll get the others. I can hear him. And Boy Urchin dragged me over the little bridge, over the troll’s stream, and we watched the other pair come behind us after we had disturbed the little beastie. But they made it, safely.
But it was that vista, those lights far away and down below, that made the trip for us. That bright serpent of sodium took the traffic all the way towards the city. And we could hear no rumbles, smell no fumes. Other lights, of apartment blocks and streets of life seemed dull.
But beyond, far to the west, the last of the natural light clung, protesting, to the land. Under the palest of baby-blue, the stark peak, that long shoulder that can only be Ben Lomond, was limned in the final, low rays of the day. Only three weeks now, till the light begins to stretch out again. Not long after the sap will start to rise.
It’ll be lambing soon, indoors at Bekah’s, after Christmas. Girl Urchin again. Ages before they’re in the fields though. Amazing how they learn isn’t it? Astonishing how they remember, soaking it all up, reminding you of all the things that didn’t seem important at the time.