Friday, June 27, 2014

Games in the woods

In the woods there are pockets of warm air hovering in the shadows not too far from where bright beams of sunlight penetrate the leafy canopy. We walk into them unexpectedly and it is like swimming into warm pools of water suspended in a cold lake.

The day is hot. In summer we walk before the sun reaches its apex for the day and try to avoid the hours on either side of it when the sun blares down with all its power and the air is still but for gentle currents stirring the tree tops lethargically.

The heat is a surprise as we walk out the door. It holds a heaviness at its edges that speaks of hotter days to come, but even now in the shade of the woods the air is thickened by the sun, the saturated air from beyond the woods seeping in from the edges to mix with the shade, and when a cooler breeze blows as though created somewhere in the middle of the forest in the darkest places between the trees, we stop our bounding run through the woods and let it find us, swirl around us like a current in a river around rocks in its path.

It is the seventh day of summer and already we have started a fire in our woodstove three times. But it rained off and on over the course of a week, torrentially. The sky was obliterated by it; there was thunder and dampness and cold nights. We are told, in spots, there is still frost in the ground. So, we had fires in the afternoons to chase away the damp that penetrates everything, makes your very spirit cold. The dogs, of course, thought we were nuts.

Today, though, it is hot and we are running through the woods. I am chasing Murdoch because I do not trust him. We left the house and headed up the trail in our woods together, he and Molly and I, but part way up I could see his distraction taking hold. His nose pointed skyward with purpose, his eyes partially closed, concentrating on the smells carried on the wind and he marched onward with more determination.

The undergrowth has grown thick and full with all the rain and the dogs can turn a corner and disappear in the blink of an eye. It has happened more often recently with Murdoch taking off for stretches of time leaving me to call his name into the green wall of the leading edge of the new growth forest behind our woods, and Molly to jab me in the leg repeatedly with a stick. A couple of times, Molly has disappeared with him.

So, today as I watch Murdoch’s demeanour change, I quicken my pace to keep him within view, until we are all running through the woods and I hope the dogs think it is a game, fun enough to distract them from anything else, like whatever it is Murdoch smells in the great expanse of the woods or the intriguing noises of heavy machinery and grumbling compressors and banging and clanging coming from the direction of our neighbours’ place where a new home is being built.

The dogs leap over downed trees and I leap over the expanses in between, my momentum carrying me from log to log and it is a game for me too as the tread of my shoe grips the bark of one tree and then the next and the next and I wonder how far I can go before my feet miss and I crash to the ground.

But I stop before that happens, to enjoy the cool breeze pushing through the trees. And then we head for the farthest corner of the woods, away from the noises of building and the smells of whatever it is that always leads Murdoch astray, and we find sticks and the dogs run after them until they are tired enough to walk back with me through the woods.

We walk through dappled sunlight and those unexpected pockets of warm air amidst shady coolness and we head to Bear’s puddle, full with rainwater and grown around with the bright green leaves of forest plants. The dogs stop for a drink before following our trail back to the house where they spread out on the floor to cool down and I watch the clouds close in overhead, blue sky pinched out by flat greyness, sunlight diffused into uniformity and a light rain begins to fall, shushing through the trees, filling the air with a smell that is electric and sweet as though sparks from the sun have been doused with sugar water.

There is cool air coming in at the windows again and the day has completely changed and I think I can exchange my glass of water for a warm cup of tea.

Later, when the sun comes out again, the dogs stare at me meaningfully, clearly having decided they have never been more bored in all their lives.


  1. Asa usual Heather, beautifully written, rich in nature imagery - it is uncanny how you can bring a landscape to such reality with just a few squiggles of black ink. The article's vivid sensory appeal calls deeply to me, and once more I'm glad that I know you and your land and your dogs. Especially loved the balance of the opening photo juxtaposed with the concluding one, both clearly characterizing the sharp personalities of Murdoch and Molly. Amazing shots.

    1. Thanks Ian! As usual, I appreciate your thoughts :) I'm glad you enjoyed the words and the pictures.