Death and rebirth Posted on June 3, 2021

Acrooss the Afon Mawdach to Cader Idris

Perhaps nine months doesn’t sound long in the life of a forest (that is the period between our last visit in August last year and our reunion last week). But through autumn and winter and a glorious spring there has been time for change, and a prodigious amount of growth, now reaching its climax. Luckily for us the lateness of spring gave us the perfect, greenest and most fragrant homecoming. The springtime woods have a score of sweet smells, some as potent as cut and growing grass, some quiet background scents you scarcely pick up until you identify them. Hawthorn and cow parsley are stridently sweet, bluebells and the tender leaves of larches form a quieter background harmony.

There are a few fallen trees, as always in a forest, and part of an ancient wall of huge stones has crumbled, undermined by an ash tree that is now dying. Once you focus on it, ash disease is everywhere, visible in bare twigs or skeletons of a whole tree canopy. Nothing can be done. The forester’s policy is to fell trees that could do damage in collapsing, as most of them eventually will; otherwise to leave them and let the growth of other trees take the light they no longer occupy. Birch and rowan, willow and hazel are always ready to cover the ground. Oaks we already cherish; seedlings of forest trees, spruce and larch, beech and hemlock and pine are clamouring to take over. It has been a wet spring until the past week and new growth is a glorious jumble of all the shades of green.

I related last year how one idiot forester, sent out to kill the notorious Rhododendron ponticum, managed instead to cut and poison our treasured blue rhododendron, R augustinii, the most distinctive plant in the forest. I went out to where it grew, clambouring up through bracken and brambles, expecting to find nothing but the blue stain of glyphosate. To my joy I found, scattered around the dead stump, a dozen tiny plants with their little shiny leaves, springing where mere twigs had landed on wet ground and layered themselves. I planted the replacement plant I had brought ten yards away in propitious brown earth.

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