Discover more from Small Stories with Laura Pashby
(one unlooked-for favour)
I wind down the windows as I weave through the lanes so I can breathe it in — the rising, fresh scent of this most beloved month. I’m not sure I believe in paradise, but if I did, it would be a beech wood in May. I love these weeks so intensely that they send me spiralling into panic. My days are crammed full and there is little time left over to step outside and inhale. I worry that the golden fields of oilseed rape flowers will have gone to seed before I have a chance to follow the footpath that winds through them up the hill. I fret that the bluebells in the valley will fade before I catch their sweet, fey aroma. Outside my writing room window, the leaves of the huge beech tree wave at me, neon new and glistening with raindrops. The woods, I know, will now be glowing green.
Two years ago, May was a difficult month. My husband was recovering from surgery on a badly broken leg, and my days were split between the hush of the ward, the whizz of the motorway, and the clatter and clutter of home. The sterile hospital walls around me could not have felt further from the living world that was exploding into springtime outside. May was coming to an end, with day upon day of rain. One afternoon, driving back from the city hospital, the damp countryside around me shone green and bubbled creamy white. Roadside verges frothed with cow parsley and hedges foamed with hawthorn. Even the towering horse chestnut trees were decorated with floating white candle-blooms.
Nearing home, I reached the top of the hill behind my house. The woods on either side of the road were carpeted with hundreds of white ramson flowers, their wild-garlic scent drifting in through the car’s open windows. Finding myself with half an hour to spare before school pickup, I pulled in to the lay-by in order to walk the fairyland carpet of starburst white blooms one more time, before the leaves faded to yellow and the flowers died back. As I stepped onto the woodland path I felt my shoulders drop, and I exhaled for what felt like the first time in weeks. The trees surrounded me like a wordless embrace and I strolled through their shade. A sound from behind made me turn to see a large doe, delicately picking her elegant way through the flowers. Hearing me, she froze and looked — ears pricked. We both stood for a moment and stared at each other, eyes wide, before she continued calmly on her way, and I on mine — back to the school gates, the supper table and the unanswered emails.
This experience lasted a matter of seconds, but in some hidden way it healed me. The steady presence of the trees, the heady scent of the flowers (which clung to my hair) and the strange, brief, intense instant of connection with the deer lifted me, and carried me through the difficult hours and days that followed. A momentary encounter felt like a blessing: like ‘one unlooked-for favour’* from the earth. Now —here in this May — remembering the sensation, I put down my pen. Perhaps there will not be time this year to twirl across a golden field, or tiptoe the path through the bluebells, but I carry the memory of those moments, nonetheless. And right this minute, I must lace up my shoes because the woods are calling. The leaves are swishy soft, the ramsons are gleaming — they are singing in green, I must go and listen.
Paradise is surely a beech wood in May.
Thank you for reading,