Into the Woods

The Autumn is a particularly good time for a walk in the woods. With Summer fading and Winter on the way, everything is in a state of change, caught between life and death, light and darkness.

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Yesterday I went on a walk with a friend through Gledhow Valley Woods in Leeds. This is one of those beautiful areas that is located in the middle of the city and yet seems entirely separate from it. After a few minutes, it’s easy to forget the cars and shops only a short distance away. It’s a bit like walking into a story from childhood. Wear a red hood down here and you wouldn’t be surprised to attract the attention of a wolf.

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A stream runs through the woods, broadening and narrowing at different points. It feels like it might go on for ever. At times it runs through short tunnels that seem like they were specifically made as settings for adventures.

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Eventually the stream vanishes into a long, dark tunnel that made me think American horror movies were foolish teenagers seem to deliberately go looking for their own deaths. I could imagine the Creeper from Jeepers Creepers making it’s home here (probably hiding from having to make another disappointing sequel). A part of me must still be a foolish teenager too, because I really wanted to walk down the tunnel and see where it lead. I was wearing my good jeans, so common sense prevailed but still afterwards I found myself imagining what I might have found.

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Whenever I am surrounded by trees, I love to stand up and look through the branches, taking in all the patterns they create. Sometimes they look like veins or line drawings, at other times like abstract paintings or ancient symbols. A friend told me  that  some of my photos of interweaving branches reminded him of rune signs. At times I think I can see in trees distant echoes of the patterns and structures inside the human body.

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When I was eight, I read The Wind in the Willows. It might seem an odd book for a city boy to read – especially one who was heavily into Star Wars at the time. But it really appealed to me because of its themes of travel and friendship (though I did think Badger was a miserable old bugger). My favourite chapter was the one where Mole foolishly ventures into the Wild Wood and finds himself watched and hunted by the animals that live there before being saved by the kindly Rat. Scholars have found all kinds of meaning around class and gender in it, but as a child it was scary and magical,like all the best fairy tales. The Wild Woods were full of possibilities.

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I think we carry the stories we love with us wherever we go. I enjoyed Gledhow Woods on their  own terms as a beautiful and atmospheric place but I also remembered all those stories of adventure, danger, werewolves and silently watching creatures. And I’m pleased about that. The tales of the woods make it all the better to go into them.

Stick to the path (but not always)

Damian

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