‘It seems like a desert’ was an odd thought to have about a wood in North Wales, especially one on the slopes of a gorge full of hurtling water.
I had come here to get out of the biting north-west wind which had been blowing for a week or more and in the expectation that, here at least, there would be the first signs of spring. Instead these woods are blank, bare and introverted. They seemed dessicated rather than lush, despite their mossiness. The trees are bare sticks pegging down a spread of yellow-green moss; an underlay waiting for the carpet – which will never come in this part of the wood, if the sheep have their way. As well as bare the place seems curiously still despite the remorseless torrent of water flickering and hissing through the gorge, thinning and screening all other sounds. Under the hissing is a steady roar; I realise I am expecting it to pass like the sound of a train – but it is permanent. A dipper is stock still on a rock in the middle of the torrent: black and white, portly, like an old-fashioned station-master waiting for that train. Further on there are swathes of fresh wild garlic leaves flanking the river but they are a dull green (perhaps it’s the light), odourless and blind- before -flowering. I have no sense of energy held back waiting to burst; Dylan Thomas’ ‘green fuse’ of spring.
Then rounding a bend in the path there against all my expectations is a clump of brilliant white wood anemones, starry faces turned to the light. Amongst the dull moss and fallen wood they seems as vulnerable as a huddle of children abandoned by the roadside; so out of keeping with the mood of the day they might have fallen from the sky freshly made. Yet for all their apparent youthfulness and fragility I know they are ancient and persistent. The seeds of wood anemones are rarely fertile, in Britain at least, so the plant(s) spreads with glacial slowness by extenuating its root system year by year, each flower being an expression of the whole matrix, which may be hundreds of years old. A patch of wood anemones can be viewed as a single plant which may be as old as those ancient oaks we venerate. These very wood anemones (or should that be singular) at my feet may have been flowering here when Shakespeare was writing A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
In the face of this quietly inching forward over centuries my grumpy expectations of ‘spring when I want it’ seem ridiculous. I realise, once again, that there is no need to want anything but rather just be grateful for whatever is on offer in the quiet-nearby.