Dear Readers, time was that a walk in Coldfall Wood would involve a gentle stroll, with me pausing every five minutes to take a photo of something or other. Not now! In the UK we are allowed out once a day for exercise, but all that loitering business is definitely frowned upon. After all, we are all trying to preserve this business of being two metres apart from people who aren’t part of our household, and that’s difficult enough when everyone is travelling at the same pace.
What a dance the good burghers of East Finchley are currently performing! There’s a step to the left, and then a step to the right, usually involving getting off the path to avoid a runner who is puffing energetically along. The biggest hazard, however, is people looking at their phones, oblivious. It would be very easy to become a curmudgeon (and I have tendencies in that direction as we know), but a piece of advice that I read at the start of all this shenanigans has stood me in good stead. It suggested that I am only responsible for my own social distancing, and that there’s little I can do about people who have other ideas about it. So true! I make sure that I step off the path or take the other route, because it costs me nothing, and it might keep both me and the other person safe. I have a suspicion that chaps might find this more difficult, as there is a definite dominance game played on the pavement at the best of times – what do you think? I know that women are not immune to this kind of gameplaying, but in my experience, a lot of blokes naturally take up as much space as they can, as if they are entitled to it. And I know that it’s not just women who are affected by ‘manspreading’ on the tube, for example – other men are as well.
Anyhoo, off I go into the woods, making sure to preserve not just my horizontal distance but my vertical distance as well, as instructed.
Gosh, two metres is quite a distance, isn’t it? I think if my husband fell flat on his face he’d be about two metres, so this makes it relatively easy to envisage (not that a tumble is desirable, obviously).
But how beautiful the woods look. The marsh marigold is just coming into flower along by the culvert, although it’s been extremely dry for the past few weeks, and the river is reduced to a trickle.
The crows are delighted though – there is a ‘secret’ spot in the woods where the crows go to bathe, and until recently the whole area was flooded. Not anymore, though, and the birds are back.
I am loving the way that the hornbeam leaves are bursting through, so fresh and green. They look as if they are getting bigger every day, and I’m sure they are.
At this time of year, you can clearly see the structure of the standard oaks that were planted many years ago. As you might remember from previous posts, Coldfall Wood is an ancient wood, where hornbeam was planted around an oak (a forestry method known as ‘coppice and standard’). The hornbeam would be cut back every year for kindling and charcoal (there are the remains of an old charcoal pit in one corner of the wood) but the oak would be allowed to grow for up to a century, at which point it would be cut down, and the wood would normally go to the Lord of the Manor. The oaks have magnificent full crowns, but at some point the tree will no longer be able to pump its sap all that way, and the top branches will die, with the crown retreating to a point lower down, giving us a ‘stag-headed’ oak. I will have a look next time I’m in the woods to see if any of the trees have reached this point, but for the moment have a look at these beauties.
Everything comes to an end, however, and there are a few enormous fallen trees in the wood. They always remind me of some kind of prehistoric monster, lurking in the undergrowth. We had a few bouts of very high winds during the winter, and maybe they were the final straw. Dead wood is normally left so that it can break down naturally, and provide a home for all kinds of beetles and other insects.
And so we circumnavigate the wood, waving hello to people as we dance around them, admiring dogs from a distance and listening to the parrots being rambunctious. It seems to me that pretty much everyone around here is doing their best under very difficult circumstances, and most people have now gotten the memo about what they’re meant to be doing. One thing this past few years has taught me is that it’s so important to take a breath and choose the kinder option – you never know what people are going through privately.
And, when I walk back along Creighton Avenue, I notice that two pigeons are happily ensconced in a nest in the eavestrough of one of the houses. It looks almost as if they’ve built a substantial nest, which would be unusual because, as we know, pigeons normally just throw a few sticks down and call it home. Maybe the plant was growing in the gutter already, and they are taking advantage? At any rate, they looked very content, and I thought I heard the tiny wheezing call which indicates that a happy event has occurred. Hooray for life! It seems to be popping up everywhere.