It is the end of June. In our local woods, May’s cool blue lakes of bluebells  have vanished under a curling tide of green bracken, breaking against the deep shaded columns of beech, oak, ash, birch and hawthorn. A heavy canopy of leaves echoes the birds’ chorus eerily, adding to the feeling of being deep underwater.

My husband and I push through the shoulder high bracken on what has become a weekly walking respite from the pressures and fears of the Covid Lockdown.  The path is still identifiable, just, but as restrictions have eased, the regular walkers have dwindled and the tread of boots is no longer sufficient to hold back the burgeoning growth.  Thorny plumes of bramble hook into our sleeves and reach across our ankles in the green depths, but this time I am ready for them, secateurs in hand.  Bracken I can push aside but brambles will quickly close this treasured route if we let it.

I could slash my way through if I chose, scything a broad path through the high stems, but that would destroy the beauty and magic of the place.  In this June wood we are drawn in, drawn on, engulfed by its greenness and forced to walk slowly as the fronds part before us and gently return behind as if we had never passed.  We are visitors, aware always of the hidden eyes watching our progress, of the possibility that we may be standing inches from a young deer, a fox, a weasel.

The wood immerses my mind as well as my body in its green calm.  With each step I am alert for the pale green prickles of young bramble shoots and my gardener’s mind steps to the fore, choosing which to leave, which to cut and where.  Some rise close to the path, before arching high across our chests.  I cut these above a bud that faces away from the path, diverting the new growth back into the bracken.  Other stems creep close to the ground: trippers.  I trace these back into the depths and cut them low to the rich dark loam.

As I move forward, I muse on the strange altered state of consciousness that can accompany pruning. As with the apples, plum and currants which I have pruned over the past couple of weeks, I am no longer just, ‘in the moment’; my senses, memory and imagination are weaving layers of time.  The stem before me sways in today’s breeze, reflects the sunlight that dapples my face now, but from each leaf node I can see, in its imaginary delicacy, the potential growth to come, the direction it will take – across the path or away? Cut or leave?  I can see in imagination the thickening, browning stems that will catch my boots next week, next month, next year. Images of clouds scudding high in the blue, above bare spring branches, toggle with views of the present patchwork of dancing green leaves. How can this be the same path I trod only weeks ago? Memory weaves through these thoughts, drawing the blue threads of wide-open bluebell-scented space and the green weft of lush summer through the brown warp of enduring trunks and branches.  

Past present and future interweave to create a space that is reassuring in its age and endurance, calming in the ephemeral beauty of today, and hopeful in its promise of cycling seasons to come.  Here there is no pandemic, no crowds intruding on our two-metre bubble, no threat of ongoing confinement or immanent infection. When we leave this place, the birds will continue to sing, the puffs of cloud will still scurry by, the leaves will still whisper, and we will take with us a draught of calm to see us through the coming week.

Where do you find calm and respite?  Do you have a favourite tree or woodland that brings you joy and calm?  Where is your nearest oasis?  

If you are unable to get out, can you find a similar sense of reassuring permanence and change in watching the view from your window?  Can you create your own oasis with houseplants in your home?  

If this seems too challenging right now, have a look at the bottom of my Watering Well page to find out how growing a terrarium can give you an oasis in a bottle that needs little or no tending.