I was in the woods, figuring out a way to cut through the trunk of a half fallen tree, to take home and saw into logs for the fire.
The tree was tangled up in other upright trees. The wood had been densely planted, probably several decades ago. Mainly pine, there are a few birch and larch trees. The one I was after was a larch – the twigs break off cleanly and the wood burns well. It smells of resin and the bark is a woven terracotta colour, a raised, chopped patchwork of greys and reddish-browns, with flickers of green threads, bunched and broken, like errors, dropped stitches, lumpy flaws in the spruce and varnished texture. Morning light flickers through the tree trunks. On cloudy days I need all my courage to walk through this wood. The trees huddle so closely together that there is only darkness ahead, no light at all. There is daylight if I look left, to the edge of the wood but the sense of disquiet increases as one moves forward, into its depths.
I don't go very far, I don't need to, before I come across a tree graveyard, with fallen trunks lying across each other in a murky tangle. But even before this area is reached, there is almost always some slanting trunks, caught up in the spiky, adhesive upper branches of the spruce trees. After each storm or high wind, a few more trees tip and lean across the others, for their roots don't go deep into the soil, which is carpeted with dusty brown pine needles, choking any green growth.
Apart from a few crow caws and the distant twitter of finches and blackbirds carried from more hospitable trees in people's gardens, it is a silent wood. A decaying wood. This, and the impenetrable darkness ahead – not somewhere I have ever ventured – coats the nerves with unease, makes one alert to the slightest sound, the trip-wire to danger. But almost the only sounds, when a wind is blowing, are the eerie creaks of a leaning tree, its branches pushing against other tree branches in a swaying irregular percussion.
But the other day, with the sun scissoring stripes of light across the floor of needles, and onto one side of the trunks, it looked painted with something hopeful, an ethereal if wistful beauty.
Intermittent tree-fellers have formed an almost-path up to the beginning of the litter of prone tree limbs, so it feels almost kindly, there is this thread of connection and purpose, even if utilitarian. But it is not entirely that, not for me anyway. I'm glad of the spruces for their dense, already dried out wood, even if their short branches and twigs latch onto your clothes and fingers, onto other trees, and cling to the trunk when you try to break them off.
But the larches are the kings and queens of trees, their sharp-scented, resinous pinkish-red rings on the sawn wood, underneath the crisp coating of bark, like so many lichen-starred roof tiles. When one of these lean heavily across their neighbours, I feel as I imagine hunters feel, when they spot the quarry of their dreams. There is always some sadness qualifying the sense of exultation, that the tree has given up its life – and there is gratitude for its gift, and admiration of its bark-studded beauty, and its clean sharp scent.