Autumn walks with my seven year old nephew have unearthed magical new dimensions in my favourite woodland. The forests of Balmerino, Morendy and Falkland in Fife, Scotland, are always places of enchantment. In my mind they easily beat beat the fantasy world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter, with the strange appearances and disappearances of red squirrel, deer and freaky fungi, mysterious sounds of creaking, rustling and fluttering of wings, dappled light and sweet earthy smell of petrichor.
But it is not always possible to feel the full force of forest awe with a companion in tow. The subtle sounds of birdsong or a leaf in free fall are drowned out when someone is blathering on about cold hands, muddy feet, how much further to go, is it time for tea? The forest contracts in the company of someone on an aerobic mission to Keep Fit. It becomes a two dimensional space to be traversed rather than a living breathing organism, with eyes and ears – a being to relationship with.
Forests are sensitive like people. They do not reveal their secrets to folk marching noisily through in hob nailed boots. You do not need map grid references or hi-tech paraphernalia to find the heart of the forest – simply make yourself very still and quiet inside and out. The path from the mundane to the magical is a leap of faith, not unlike the trick school boy wizards use to arrive on Platform 9 and 3/4.
Although a city dweller, my young nephew Hamish had a great intuitive sense of how to be in the forest. He watched and listened and wondered. Seeing this world through his eyes, the magic and mysteries multiplied. He spun his own web of fantasies and enchantment transforming murky muddles into portals to the underworld, finding hope in stray white feathers.
Dark stains on the tree bark were angry graffiti protests by beautiful Michaela whose heart was ripped out by a Gorgon prince. A radiant circle of light through the trees was a fairy aureole. A narrow passage through the Rhododendron is actually an a vortex for time travel to 1968 – the year of Space Odyssey and protests in London, Paris, Berlin and Rome.
“You are dead now. The fairies have been murdered – there is no pain here,” Hamish informs me pointing to the last teardrop, luminous and quivering on a twig. In such company the forest becomes a place where the bounds of possibility, identity and perspective are loosened, and we bond – profoundly – with the world.