The gifts that a simple life in nature can bring are balanced by the challenges. First off, if one decides to live in a wood, the corollary is that one has to sleep in a wood. For the uninitiated, this is not automatically a comfortable experience.
Sitting in the wagon at dusk often filled me with a certain sobriety. While not on edge, I became watchful. For when the day is put to bed, the wild shakes itself and is awake. All sorts of stirrings break in, from the rude crash of Brock as he barrels through the underwood, to the morbid creep of reptiles. The sudden, territorial bark of a stag always unsettled, so too the strangled cry of mating foxes. Of course, none of these creatures were out to get me, but when darkness invades woods we are pressed by primal fears of ambush, by those that would do us harm.
No, I could live with the animals. What concerned me more was the trespassing human element. In this regard, the wagon was perfectly sited to induce a certain anxiety: close enough to the road for visitors, yet at the same time, deep enough in-wood to conclude they were either up to no good or simply wrong in the head.
Being camped behind the wood yard, was, in hindsight, a terrible idea. Such places are a magnet for the wrong sort, irresistible to men who will offer you a chainsaw out the back of their van, or a generator for fifty quid. The yard, with its bodger’s shelter and bundles of coppice poles would only serve as a come-on to the pikey element, a teaser with the promise of a trailer or tool store further down, among the trees. I had large windows and no curtains and did not like the idea of being seen, or worse, watched. With no locks on the doors, allowing myself to sleep was an act of trust.
Another challenge my new life laid down was returning to the woods after dark, a situation I always found disconcerting. Perhaps I have seen too many films, but car lights in a wood are always spooky. Halogen beams penetrating ranks of trees, an army of grim columns that appear rigid as the light strafes them, then instantly mown down by a return to black. Beams sweeping witchy underwood, throwing up faces and body parts of startled animals – the burning eyes of a dog fox, a badger’s thick rear end oscillating into darkness, the mosh-pit spasm of spooked deer.
Dropping down the ride, past sentinels of hornbeam, the trees made it no easier, going to work on one’s imagination. They crowd in and bend down, as if cursing the noisy trespasser; they drag terminal buds across windscreen and roof; they tut and quake. A car has no place in a wood, especially after dark. It is in many ways an act of aggression, disturbing the natural rhythms and fracking the night. If you walk in you are accepted. But to drive in, it warps the energy there.