The wood so softly singing
In a language strange to hear
And the song it sings will find you
As the twilight draws you near


The Magic of Midsummer

A posting from a previous Midsummer. This year is likely to be wet in the UK. Though the day no less long and magical.


As the days lengthen to the heat of Midsummer and fields fill with flowers so the green of the pasture meadows has given way to a glittering of yellow buttercups.  Both these and spearworts have made the grass a green background to their bright display.  I stand on a heath above the yellow fields and see the Sun shine on a far bay and the sea appears as a jewel in the cup of the green hills and the grey town.  The boggy ground up here has a dry crust on it now, but there's bog cotton on it nonetheless, with its fluffy cotton-wool head, and marsh pennywort leaves lie dark green on the dried mat of sphagnum moss.  Out of the bog proper, in the wet meadow, there's lousewort with its purple flowers lying close to the ground seeking shelter from the Sun.  On the hedgebank among the heather and the gorse I find milkwort too, a strange flower this with an inner tube and outer petals all forming a single flower.  The outer petals stick out as the flower opens, like wings from the base of the tiny inner tube.  All this is difficult to make out as the plant is only a few inches high.  The colour varies too.  These are all pale blue, but further down the bank are some with dark blue outer petals (sepals?) and a white inner part.  The outer part will later take the appearance of sepals proper when they turn green as the fruit ripens.  The herbalists used to prescribe this plant for nursing mothers to increase their milk supply.  In Ireland it is known as fairy soap, the idea being that fairies made a lather from the roots.

   After an absorbing hour or so on the hedge bank I cross the fields to the wood which I came to see.  There are stretches of this wood running here and there from the heath down to the sand dunes by the sea.  They are the remains of an ancient forest long since cleared for farmland.  The trees which are left - mostly oaks - are old, and there are other things which are old here too.  You can feel it in the cool shade of the canopy: a green magic that only a great age seems to bring.  I walk the woodland path admiring the ferns, noting in particular the way the male ferns stand up in circular rosettes from the woodland floor.  Then I see something unfamiliar.  A fern to be sure, but what is it?  I stop.  Admire the perfect form of it.  The soft green and unfamiliar shape - a bit like a polypody, a bit like a male fern -  hold me there spellbound for a while.  Then I must decide.  It is either a beech fern or an oak fern, and only later after consulting my book can I finally conclude that it is the former.  But still I must go back to make sure.  Further on I come to a place were the fields fall down to the sea on one side and the trees clothe the sides of a deep gorge on the other.  By the field's edge there is cow wheat growing; just inside the wood there's creeping jenny, a flower whose deep yellow petals have always held a fascination for me.  This is not the yellow glitter of the buttercup fields, or the bright happy yellow of ragwort, or even the golden richness of a dandelion, but a dark mysterious yellow that somehow holds the secrets of a woodland summer in its five pointed petals.  Such secrets now are whispered all around me.  I'm standing by the tree that I came to see.  An old, lichened wild service tree growing on the very edge of the steep slope of the gorge.  But there are suckers growing on the flatter ground of the field from beneath the bracken which forms a barrier between the grass and the trees.  This old wild service tree, with its fragile offspring, may be the only one in the country.  They are usually only found in very old woodland.  In coming to see it I have seen so much more and the afternoon has passed to evening.  The Sun now is slanting low over the green hills to the sea beyond.  All is still after the long day.  Fields as rich as butter darken their shades of green as the yellow light deepens to the cool of night.  Already the Moon pales to whiteness in the clear sky.  Soon the night is all blue and silver.

Fair Earth, so glad I am to love you like this.  So glad I am to love you.