Listening to silence

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For just a few weeks in late April and early May, my local bluebell wood is a magnet for visitors wanting to catch one of the ‘special events’ of the year. The blooms are not visible from the road, not accessible to casual passers-by. You have to go there on purpose – park the car, open the gate and climb a short slope to the edge of the copse. Then you see the familiar but always magical carpet of mauve (not blue at all, of course), beneath the delicate fresh beech leaves in their contrasting yellow-green.

In August, t0wards the end of an all-too-short summer, the leaves have darkened, the thicker canopy blocks out more of the sunlight, and the ground is a boring brown. Without the bluebells, it’s nothing very special.

Or so I thought. Wanting to spend a quiet hour or two alone on a fine Sunday afternoon, I went to the woods. I parked the car, opened the gate and climbed the short slope to the edge – to be met by an extraordinary atmosphere.

Utter stillness. Not a breath of wind to produce the shushing sound of swaying branches. The air pressure was that of a humid enclosed space, pushing gently on the ears, as if everything around me was waiting and listening for something. It was, as one translation of an untranslatable biblical phrase puts it, ‘a sound of sheer silence’.

I usually stroll around the perimeter of the wood to the far side and stand on the ridge looking out across the fields beyond. But this time I wanted to tiptoe straight ahead, along the broad avenue cut through the middle of the trees, to get deeper into the stillness at the centre.

I20150816_161335n spring time, I’d be admiring the display of bluebells; in the autumn I’d be kicking the rustling layers of fallen leaves. Without either of these distractions, with nothing interesting to see or hear at ground level, I looked up, noticing the towering height of the beech trees and the patches of pale sky between the branches.

At last the spell was broken with the echoing shout of a dog-walker at the edge of the copse, and an excited answering bark. Walking on, I had my quiet hour alone – and didn’t once wish for bluebells.

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