Here in the UK the next two weeks are when the bluebells are at their best. Before my chronic illness made me housebound, I used to make an annual pilgrimage with a carer and wheelchair to a little copse a few miles away. It meant the world to me to see such beauty, and to breathe in the delicate perfume of the flowers.
It’s been a few years since I was well enough to go, and it makes me very sad. But this year, there are lots more people who are sad that they can’t get to visit woodlands to see one of Britain’s natural wonders.
Moved by that and the Holy Spirit’s prompting, I decided to write an immersive piece to help us all go and see the bluebells. I would love it if you would read and share it, and also, if you would take up my Honeycomb Hermit’s challenge: to fill social media this week with bluebells; paintings, photos, videos and poems. Whatever melts your heart about these wonderful flowers, let’s all celebrate them and their amazing creator together! Please use the hashtag #BluebellChallenge and tag me @HoneycombHermit
You stand for a few moments by the barbed wire on the verge. Little strands of wool have caught here and there and are tugged gently by the fresh spring breeze.
“Come and play,” it seems to be saying, echoing the sentiments of the lambs in the field. Now and then it’s a little chilly, but mostly the sunshine is warm and it makes you feel strangely hopeful for the future.
There is a large oak tree in the middle of the field and most of the sheep are lazing in its shade. A few newborns bound about, chasing one another, calling to their mothers,
“Maaaaaa…maaa” when they turn around sharply and forget in their joy where they are. She anchors them with a lower sound, letting them know she is watching. There are quite a few twins, as always, and some of the braver ones see you, and look wide-eyed in wonder at the strange new creature. The ewes eye you with suspicion, protective of their little ones. They are all well looked after, bales of hay straggling in corners, lush green grass, troughs of rainwater.
You smile at their antics and look further on, gazing at the mauve hills and acres of sweet chestnut woodland behind them, so many colours and curves, so many new leaves. A feast of abundant life.
And for the first time in a long while, you are able to stand and look at the sky. It is always a shock, after a long time indoors, to remember it is there, this great ocean of pale blue, heaven’s canopy, stretching too far for mere human vision to follow. You feel stunned by its grandeur and that it is, like everything holy, just too much to look at for long. You close your eyes and take a deep breath of fresh ozone. You cannot help but smile at the idea that you now have lungs full of sky. The beauty and crispness of it seem to pass into your whole being, as though you too, might be glowing with light.
You stretch, and turn, a little reluctantly, but then remember why you are here. There is another natural wonder waiting for you. You cross the small country lane and head along the dirt path that leads into the copse. Even those first few steps, where the world changes from grass to woodland, are a beautiful transition. The ground ivy and delicate purple violets look up at you, starry-eyed, wondering what you are about, so large and clumsy. And the buttery celandines shimmer seemingly just for you.
The edges of the path are littered with last year’s dead leaves, dried and crunchy, brittle-boned reminders of a season long over. Life is here now, and the tiny buds and green leaves poke out everywhere from stems and stalks that have shot up in joyous abandon. You start, as you see a quick movement off to your right, deeper into the trees. A rabbit perhaps, or a fox? Your heart beats a little faster and you breathe deeply, savouring the moment. There is a magical sense of wonder at being so near God’s creatures. You feel, just for a moment, overwhelmed with gratitude. That you are here, that all is well, that things past are done with.
As if to affirm your delight, a holly blue alights on a wood anemone, a piece of sky that came loose and zig-zagged its way down to earth on spring wings. It looks so perfect as it sups on the nectar of the white flowers. Your instinct is to reach for your phone, to take a photo. But you stop yourself. This is a sacred time and instead you commit the whole thing to memory. A few pictures as you leave perhaps, but not now. The butterfly soars upwards, having shared your life for mere moments, and brightened it immensely. Some people are like that, you think, dazzling with their loving presence. And prayer most certainly is. Entering the woods feels like a pilgrimage you have put off for too long.
And then you turn the corner, and you see them. You cannot help yourself, and gasp.
All about you, at every side, is a carpet of bluebells. A cobalt cloud of witnesses, purpling every inch of ground. The perfume, sweet and mesmerizing, does not cloy, but refreshes more than just your senses. The perfection of the scene is almost too much to bear, after such a long time. No wonder nature only makes this display for one fortnight a year. No-one could take more of this. A few tears fall. You had been holding them in. Maybe they were saved for today.
“Thank you,” you mouth, afraid to break the quiet. And then, heaven, a robin’s song, one chorister in this cathedral of trees, singing out praises you can only dream of articulating. How such a tiny creature can belt out such arias is a mystery. But the woodland is full of the sound, and you can almost hear it sigh, like a hungry belly rounded with delicious food. You look around as the sound gets nearer, and suddenly there it is, sat on the large branch of a fallen tree, right before you, staring at you, and it is as if, for one glorious moment, you are the only two creatures in the world. It stops singing a moment, to consider you better, cocking its head once to either side, and then flies up to a better viewpoint on the next tree along, bursting into a flame of song again, as if to encourage you onwards and give you its approval.
There is no-one else here, and you instinctively take off your shoes and socks, putting them carefully to one side of the nave, walking slowly and purposefully down the path, through the middle of the blooms. It feels so good to connect with God’s earth. The soil is a little dusty, there has not been much rain this year yet. You can feel every tree root and bump in the ground, and it is like coming home.
Everywhere you look, the thin green blades have shot up their fireworks. The blue heads bow, a cavalcade of priests, ringing out their prayers on their campanulae, writing their illuminations on non-scripted hyacinth petals, shaking out more and more incense with every gust of wind. This is truly sacred ground, and you are glad to be here, glad to be present at this service in this chapel of light and shade.
You walk or wheel a little further, go around or over a stile, and then sit smiling on the ground. There is nowhere else you need to be, and for now, you can simply take it all in.
What you experience today you can carry with you to sustain you in difficult times. A rescue kit of memory, the sights and sounds of woodland beauty sink deep into your heart; imprinting themselves on your mind, travelling deep into the refuge of your soul. This is one of those times that exists outside of normality, in some kind of eternal space. You will be able to come back here time and time again by just closing your eyes. The robin sits silent now, having sung his heart out for today, and listens with you to the chanting bluebells, and the soft sighing of the wind. You lean up against a silver birch, and run your hand along its peeling metal. Such treasures all around us. You smile, and breathe deeply, and stay exactly as long as you would like.
© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2020