“Yes, the estate remains open until dusk. But I’m afraid the bluebells are almost over.” The National Trust staff member looked genuinely crestfallen that we had perhaps made a futile journey. I wondered too. Had we left it too late? Not in the time of day – I had deliberately chosen late afternoon just as the main house and gardens were closing – but in waiting so late into the spring? The bluebells have been magnificent this year; we still had plenty at home. But had I left it too late to see them in their true glory – massed amidst spring woodlands?
I had not. It’s true that they were perhaps just past their best but that did not detract from their beauty. To walk in these woods on a soft, sunshine-filled evening late in May was sublime.
We were the only two people in the wood: we were the only two people in the world. The further in we walked, the further apart we drifted. Until each of us was alone – until it was just me. Suffused with the delights of nature, turning instinctively towards the reverent solitude of a sacred space.
Light – bright and clear – streamed through the canopy. Leaves shimmered and sighed, a mosaic of emerald supported by ancient pillars – venerable trunks stretching upwards and sending graceful branches to weave an intricate lattice high above the floor and just below the heavens. The breeze sighed; the trees soughed softly in response and hosts of birds near and far sang a celestial symphony which rang pure and deep into the furthest corners.
And on the woodland floor, everywhere there were bells, fading bluebells. Drifts of hazy blue clustering around ancient trunks, broad, riven and gnarled. Younger brethren, grey and smooth, and moss-covered logs – all were islands in a carpet of blue. How many blues can a bluebell be? In stretches of balmy shade they massed sedately in tinctures of deep heather and ecclesiastical purple. They crowded into splashes of evening sunlight dressed in smoky lavender and dusky lilac and in spotlights of brightest, lightest sunshine they danced in accents of cobalt and indigo, azure and regal royal blue.
An endless cerulean ocean, the pure notes of an avian chorus and the soaring green vaults of this, the most natural of cathedrals. A paean to an English springtime.
A few days later, I came across this poem by Mary Oliver:
When I am Among the Trees
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
I shall try to remember the message of the trees.