I went to Clowes Wood hunting for inspiration, which I needed for some text to be sent somewhere in twenty-four hours. But my mind stopped seeing in the “feels like zero” temperature. I tried several things. I lifted hopeful eyes to a low-flying plane but its plaintive drone served only to thicken the mind’s gathering somnolence. I’d walked up to the wood, and I’d walked in the wood an hour, and if a walk hasn’t delivered the writer a result, what can be done? I sat on a green bench and settled my eyes on a thick white tree and watched a breeze get behind the leaves of the vine round it. The sheath of them swelled and heaved, and I tried to see in the tree how it felt to be cuckolded, but, as ever, the tree only hove tight heavenward, to the very tips of its bare tines.
I wondered if I might sight a fox, and saw instead that there wasn’t a bird—not on the green conifers, not on the oaks, nowhere. There wasn’t a sound, not even a buzz from an insect. I vowed to come back in summer to hear the nightjars and to see the glow worms, and started to leave, when I heard my first human voices there—a child and his parents coming in, now when the phone predicted precipitation. Anyway, they were better insulated than I. The child had many questions and his mother had all the answers.
A boy raised somewhere here came to Malnad in the nineteenth century as the young Englishman Middleton, and sheared a string of low mountains of their jungle and planted coffee there. He called his plantation Kadumane: Jungle Home. I’ve spent days and nights there. After he’d prospered he came here to find a wife, and brought her home to Kadumane, travelling the last leg by ox-cart. The following morning, her first in her new home, his bride went out and screamed. Yesterday’s ox had been savaged by a tiger before dawn.
Where lie the roots of courage? The Middletons and the Ibn Batutas of all times fascinate me. Once I’m a real writer I might begin to meddle with their motives.
Still seeking inspiration, I went to The Blean this morning. Whereas many trees in Clowes were conifers whose green hadn’t left them, in The Blean the green was all on the ground: in the shrub, and moss on the exposed roots of trees. I wandered mostly in a section populated almost entirely with silver birch. Learning just now that Coleridge called these Betula Pendula the Ladies of the Woods, I realise they are indeed slender and nymphlike and quite becoming. (So many of them, and so bare.) There were many birds in the Blean, but I couldn’t tell which cry belonged to which bird of The Blean: the robin or the wren, the dunnock or the blackbird, the song thrush or the woodpecker.
How does one shoo a fox away? With a cry? A stick? Just as I thought to presume the English fox to be as shy as our Indian ones, I saw the furry thing. It came up at a fork ahead and stood there, deciding, and as I raised my camera, it trotted down and away, leaving only a blurry trace to speak for me.