If You Go Down To The Woods Today…

…you’re sure of a big surprise.

OK, well maybe you won’t be that surprised by what you find there, but you will most certainly be taken aback by the simple beauty that you find there.

Bluebell

Bluebell Wood

On May 9th 1871, Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote the following in his journal, regarding his experience of a bluebell wood:

It was a lovely sight. – The bluebells in your hand baffle you with their inscape, made to every sense. If you draw your fingers through them they are lodged and struggle with a shock of wet heads; the long stalks rub and click and flatten to a fan on one another like your fingers themselves would when you passed the palms hard across one another, making a brittle rub and jostle like the noise of a hurdle strained by leaning against; then there is the faint honey smell and in the mouth the sweet gum when you bite them.

What I love about this description is that it is so mindful of the sensory experience. The feel of the flowers between the fingers, their ‘faint honey smell’, their ‘sweet gum’ taste, their ‘brittle rub and jostle’ sound – just bliss.

Two of my favourite bloggers are writing about two different themes over at their blogs at the moment. Joanna Young from Confident Writing is writing about Powerful Writing and Rosa Say from Managing With Aloha Coaching is writing about Humility. I thought about both of these themes and how they connect as I looked at the photos that I took today of the bluebell wood and read Hopkins’ journal entry. It seems to me that by remaining humble, by retaining our focus on the seemingly small and modest, we can tap into a powerful source of truth which does not simply resonate with the individual writing-self, but also with all those who read their words. When I read the word Hopkins wrote over 130 years ago, I feel the dew he felt, I smell the honey scents he smelled, I hear the rub and jostle he heard, I taste the sweetness he tasted. His words describing a simple trip into the woods ring with truth. They transcend time. They are powerful and yet they are simultaneously humble. As is all truly great writing.

When was the last time you took a trip into the woods, or indeed any natural setting, such as the beach, the lake, the waterfall, the desert? What did you find there? Could you describe and share with us the sensory experience of being there?

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May 6, 2008. Environment, Inspiration.

13 Comments

  1. Joanna Young replied:

    Amy, I’m going to comment twice. First to say thanks for this wonderful definition and explanation of powerful writing.

    Oh, and I’m glad you made it to the bluebells this week. You had a beautiful day for it.

    My answer to your question follows.

    Joanna

  2. Joanna Young replied:

    It had been a hot walk up to the falls at Glen Ashadale, even though we were still in early spring. The sun had come out bright and strong so it was a shock to move into the instant cool of the shadows of the wood.

    As the temperature dropped and the light dimmed I felt the atmosphere change and my mood shift. It was like being in a church, a giant natural cathedral, wooden pillars soaring up into the sky. Reminding me of the crazy columns in the mezquita at Cordoba.

    Everything was hushed, silent, peaceful, still.

    And as I walked quietly through the wood I felt a huge sense of relief, of release, of being in this place so quiet, so still, so well.

    Thanks for reminding me Amy

    Joanna

    My picture of the cathedral effect – not as good as yours, but the light was kind of challenging!

  3. On a Limb with Claudia replied:

    Once again, amazing photos.

    My last trip to the forest was in a snow storm. Standing among the lodgepole pines, I remember a profound sense of silence. Every sound, even the falling snow, was muffled by the 5 or so feet of snow on the ground. Every once and a while, a branch let go of some heavy snow. I’d hear a “shoosh” then silence. The silence was thick and tangible.

    I realize how rarely I experience silence.

  4. amypalko replied:

    In response to your first comment, Joanna, I’m so pleased that you enjoyed my post on powerful writing. As for the bluebells, I did make it to the bluebell wood only to find the forestry folks had decimated it. These bluebells snuck up on me at university yesterday!

    Secondly, Joanna, thank you so much for leaving such a beautiful comment that is so lyrical in its description. I love your comparison of being amongst the tall majestic trees to being in a cathedral! It perfectly captures that feeling of being somewhere sacred: a pantheistic temple.

    What a beautiful description, Claudia! Thank you so much for sharing it. I can really imagine myself in your shoes experiencing that profound silence. Wonderful!

  5. David replied:

    Such beautiful pictures.

    Bluebells give me hope. They have a magical presence, reminding me to look beyond myself.

    I think the key to good writing is humility. Good writing shouldn’t be noticed by the reader; bad writing almost always is. Amazing writing should strike the depths of being, leaving the soul gasping for breath. Can we choose to write like that, or must it come from the core of who we are?

    True writing – like true art – falls upon us as a gift, arriving when it is least expected.

  6. Sassy Mama Bear replied:

    Miss me?
    I have been in the woods recently but had little time to stop and enjoy, this weekend however will be different and I will write on that next week. I need to get back into my writing, and this is a good assignment…sensory writing.

  7. Yvonne replied:

    Amy,

    There are hosts of blubells and other wild things to photograph in the woods across the road from us.

  8. Bo replied:

    I went walking in my woods in Wisconsin and also came across a stand of bluebells, though mine look nothing like your variety – well, a little bit.
    I’m posting my bluebells and my wood’s walk tomorrow. So funny – so far away, and doing the same sorts of things.

  9. Robyn replied:

    Amy, it’s great to find a blogger who loves nature. I am deeply moved by good literature and and nature as I understand from you…

    My husband and I have 50 acres of woods and it’s my deep pleasure to introduce my grandsons to all the amazing things to be found within. We have an amazing ash tree there that has an amazing girth and has been hollowed out by animals who live within. On our last trip to the woods we discovered raccoons living within and they hissed at us and made us know it was their castle and we were not allowed!

    Here’s just a bit of “Birches” by Frost that will keep us all invigorated:

    “So was I once myself a swinger of birches. And so I dream of going back to be.”

  10. Darren Daz Cox replied:

    I haven’t seen bluebells since I left the UK in the 70’s *sigh*.
    But you love what you are near…
    I love the beach near my house and walk on it almost every day. I have a habit now of throwing the stranded crabs back in and they smell very strongly of the sea.

  11. Joanna Young replied:

    Had to come back here again, what wonderful conversation goes on. Daz I was dreaming of the sea last night – I think that’s where I need to be next, somewhere close to the sea.

    Robyn, I knew that was you when I read your words. I love the story about the animals in the tree. You could write a whole book about that!

    Makes me v. happy to see my favourite bloggers connecting up and finding their way to this treasure-trove of a blog.

    Joanna

  12. amypalko replied:

    It’s true isn’t it, David? Bluebells really are quite magical, particularly en masse. Thank you so much for your thoughts on writing. I completely agree πŸ™‚

    Always, Sassy Mama Bear πŸ˜‰

    It is funny, isn’t it, Bo? I love that we are connected in this way. Very special!

    Wow, Robyn! 50 acres of woodland sounds completely amazing. I’d love to see that birch although with your fabulous description, I feel as though I already have πŸ™‚

    Oh, I’m desperate to get to a beach, any beach, Daz. When I lived up north, I lived on a kyle, and I so miss that feeling of being close to the sea.

    You are always a most welcome guest here, Joanna! And thank you so much for your lovely words. I draw such strength from them πŸ™‚

  13. amypalko replied:

    Yvonne, just realised I overlooked your comment when replying before! I’d actually forgotten about the woods across from you. I think a trip with camera in tow is much needed!

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