Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘South Downs National Park’

Midhurst astro - 6-11-2019 blog-2

Midhurst, West Sussex, November 2019

Nightfall. The traffic throbs white and red along North Street. The streetlamps light a line of trees penning the cars in against the buildings that crowd one side of the road. The illuminated frame of a church window stands between two black trees like a section of the Taj Mahal.

I’m here to drink in the swelling night sky. Above Midhurst the Plough sits like an advert for something half-formed or untranslated. As the night deepens more stars cluster around iconic constellations I can’t put a name to.

People pass on a couple of occasions, one man greets me, his scotty dog with a green collar glowing around its neck in the dark. The night has not dimmed its senses, it seems enlivened, sniffing at the night with ears pricked up.

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Over the Rother, where it funnels past the Cowdray ruins, the moon draws up mist from the river, matched in the cloud that sits beneath its white beam. Who knows what could be creeping in towards me under that white veil.

Aeroplanes blink and roar in the sky, male pheasants clash in metal at the margins of the wet grasslands separating the Cowdray ruins from the Midhurst traffic. The stars seep through yet more.

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Woolbeding - 6-11-2019 blog-1

The Rother, Midhurst, November 2019

Autumn is entering its deepest phase but summer’s life still has a breath. Along the Rother path a neon spider pushes across the mud into the wet grass. The young oaks stand like upright bonfires burning from green to gold. College students wile away their lunchbreaks on the urban netherlands of the Rother. One young woman sits on the exposed roots of a tree watching the sluice, while another rests her head on the concrete structure supporting a drainage pipe. Her male friend stands by, nervous, unsure of how to respond.

Woolbeding - 6-11-2019 blog-2

Passing through the woods the trunk of an ancient hornbeam has been revealed again from the screen of saplings and bramble. The latter’s leaves bright yellow with flecks of red like nicks of flesh. A small flock of tits, wrens and robins lift up at the arable edges, ticking into the green bowers of a mature oak. They cross the felled and repurposed trunk of an old conifer with electrical wires, warning: RISK OF DEATH KEEP OFF.

At the gate into Woolbeding autumn crashes into view. Reds, yellows, and browns glow in a break of the sun from clouds. The South Downs loom in silhouette beyond austere pine plantations on Midhurst Common, framing the autumn trees that edge the fields I’m entering. In the meadows dandelions and knapweeds flower in isolation. The air has warmed in recent days and these flowers have taken their chance.

Woolbeding - 6-11-2019 blog-3

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Angels bonnets - Oct 2019 blog-1

River Rother, Midhurst, West Sussex, October 2019

The Rother wends its way around the foot of St. Ann’s Hill, the site of a motte-and-bailey-castle probably built by the Normans in the 11th century. The water is high and brown after heavy rain that has fallen for several days. Atop the hill the ground is carpeted by the spiky cases of sweet chestnuts, freshly fallen from the huge trees that dominate the hill. The sun, shining on what feels a rare occasion, lights the open shells, their chestnut fruits glimmering where they lie.

Away from the hilltop I follow a path that whips back across the prow of the hill. Here dead oaks lie on either side of the path. Angel’s bonnet mushrooms grow in a cluster from crevices in the sinewy wood, their white caps used as a post by a dung fly. Under one mushroom cap I notice another fly’s head poking out as it rests on the stem.

Rother - Oct 2019 blog-1

I hear the loud clopping of a dog coming towards me on the path. In my stillness it doesn’t know I’m here. As it comes closer and closer into view, its legs are in fact long and thin. It’s a roe deer, young and carefree. It sees me at a distance of ten feet and splashes through ivy, hazel and brambles down to the safety of the winding Rother.

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Kingley Vale - 27-10-2019 blog-7

Kingley Vale, South Downs, West Sussex, October 2019

We enter the ashy woods of Kingley Vale, one of the most spellbinding place in the South Downs. Mushrooms are everywhere at the feet of yew, ash and oak trees as the season enters its peak.

Kingley Vale - 27-10-2019 blog-1

The light is weak so we kneel down next to the mushrooms to look more closely. We find blushers, ceps, deceivers and many brown species that are very difficult to identify.

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Archetypal mushrooms grow with black gills and caps that glow purple. Their collars hang loose like pastry over the edges of a tin.

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Kingley Vale is famed for its ancient yew trees, particularly one area that is heavily visited, the roots of the trees beginning to show above ground from the impacts of footfall eroding the ground around them. They feel like one of the most still and unmoving of tree species, owing to their hardness and strength. Their living tissue is some of the strongest in the plant kingdom and their heartwood is not at all needed for them to remain upright. Their roots can go on producing new trees even when those above ground have died, like the Borrowdale yews in the Lake District.

Kingley Vale - 27-10-2019 blog-8

Out from under the yews chalk grassland spreads to the foot of the ridge where yew and ash woods cover the hills. Many of the ash trees are succumbing to ash dieback disease, in a landscape where they are content. It is a tragedy but then it is our own fault for unchecked trade of wood products, combined with the eventual spread of fungal spores.

Kingley Vale - 27-10-2019 blog-9

In the chalk grasslands we find a cowpat with mushrooms popping from the poo. One of them is snowy inkcap, a species I have never seen before, with its powdery cap and stem. It looks like something you might find in a snow globe.

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Climbing up onto the ridge the sun slips away in the west, casting a final glow across the chalky bowl of Kingley Vale.

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The grunting of a male deer echoes in the yew woods broken by the white stags of bare bone ash branches. Knowing some of these trees may be dead lends them a ghoulishness. Their brushheads are fading into history. Many will not be here in years to come.

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The sun glimmers in Chichester Harbour and the sea. A plume of smoke spirals into the evening sky.

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In the dense and dark yew woods on the slope we hear the strange, tropical bubbling of a tawny owl. Here yews reach out into the light at the edges like multi-limbed bodies sucked into a vortex. The yews have clarified the soil, no other plant can compete. Combined with the tawny’s song, the experience is otherwordly.

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At dusk rooks flock in a sea of black over a field-edge wood. Their cawing grows louder and closer as they envelop the sky above our heads, drawing in jackdaws, drifting back beyond the tops of the trees. On the darkening hilltops deer graze like slow-footed, four-legged people. We are left with so many questions.

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Ebernoe - 11-10-2019 djg-3

Ebernoe Common, Sussex Weald, October 2019

Last week I spent a drizzly and dark afternoon at Ebernoe Common, a National Nature Reserve managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust. It was raining not only water but mushrooms. The first signs of the good times came in the shape of a magpie inkcap. This is something I’ve only seen three times, twice at Ebernoe and once on the North Downs.

Ebernoe - 11-10-2019 djg-1

The word magpie relates to the English phrased ‘pied’ which means black and white. This species goes into the delicious state of deliquesce (an inky kind of melting), just like its relative the shaggy inkcap. Unlike the shaggy inkcap, though, it’s toxic so don’t eat it. The thing I like about this image is the glow of green in the background gradually turning to yellow as autumn progresses. Beech usually provides this kind of backdrop.

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Porcelain fungus is a reliable species. It fruits in the same place, often en masse, each year. It is a beautiful species but the beauty, like so many things, lies underneath.

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The gloopy glimmer of the cap is photogenic but the gills of porcelain fungus are stunning.

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I use a small LED light to illuminate mushrooms in this way. I can’t tell you how much more character this can offer to photos. Actually I can: a lot more.

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Here you can see my roving light (yes, I meant this!) mixing it with some delicious bokeh in the background. Leaves and branches create lovely bokeh because of the break of light in the gaps.

Ebernoe - 11-10-2019 djg-20

Here is one of ‘the finished images’. I like that the light circles can imitate the caps of mushrooms in photos and offer a deeper layer of resonance and reflection. Who knew.

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In photography, macro is where the fun happens. There are so many amazing things happening at our feet that our eyes are incapable of seeing without the help of magnification. If you want to have a go at macro, don’t hesitate. Just do it. I call this one ‘Climb every mountain’. The piece of deadwood does have the appearance of a peak in this light. The mushroom is like a protagonist, playing on a theme of mushrooms as individuals or sentient beings throughout human history:

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This seems to be particularly prevalent in German culture and Christmas or New Year celebrations. Christmas has evolved from Pagan traditions (Paganism was once considered any religion which was non-Christian) and the place nature has in the human imagination is pretty clear here.

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Back to life, back to reality. Honey fungus is enjoying its first boom phase and seems to be having a good year.

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There is a dead veteran beech tree at Ebernoe Common which is basically where all the mushrooms live. This wide angle image shows just how many larger species were making a home within the tree. Here you can see giant polypore (bottom left), honey fungus in the middle and Ganoderma brackets everywhere. This is a stunning tree and of the highest ecological importance because of all the species, not just fungi, it supports. All of these species are contributing to the tree’s decay and recycling into organic matter (soil).

Ebernoe - 11-10-2019 djg-9

Not far away was a patch of hen-of-the-woods, an aggressive root-rotter (harsh). It’s said to smell like mice (more harsh).

Ebernoe - 11-10-2019 djg-42

You can imagine how I thought someone was playing a trick when I passed this. A swing made from a beech log that was covered in porcelain fungus. It was embarrassingly hard to photograph well. Thankfully only the mushrooms were looking and they haven’t evolved to use Twitter yet.

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On my way out I spotted this slurp of fungus low on a log by the path.

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Looking closely with the macro lens it has the appearance of something you might find in a coral reef. Then that’s the beauty of woodland, it has a depth to it that you have to dive in to experience for yourself.

Thanks for reading.

 

Read more:

The Sussex Weald

My Wood-Wide-Web

 

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Cowdray Park - 16-9-2019 djg lo-res-14

Cowdray Park, Sussex Weald, September 2019

It’s a grey and dark September evening. Robins sing solitary from trees in their autumnal fashion. Cars wash nearby on the A272, to and from the village of Easebourne. The bracken rests in stages of green, yellow and brown. In Cowdray Park a sign warns of the bull in the field, but there are no cattle. The only beasts are the trees sat across the undulating hillside of parkland. Here lives the 1000 year old Queen Elizabeth oak and the Cowdray Colossus, the biggest sweet chestnut in England.

I pass creeping thistle still in flower and others with their leaves thinning to a translucent yellowy green. Walking under one of the ancient oaks, it looks like a rabbit’s head, its heartwood torn out and lying on the ground. An alcove has become of its bark, like a doorway to another place. It’s a fair metaphor, the word oak derives from an old name for door.

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The second oldest oak sits on the hill, its heartwood also lost, mainly trampled out by cattle and people. But now it has a fence around it. In front of the fence stands a roe deer. It watches me in complete stillness. I approach one slow step at a time, taking a photo each time I get closer. Soon it turns on its heels and disappears off behind the tree, springing into the air. I see it rising up and down beyond the fence like a merry-go-round.

I approach the oak and see it is producing acorns. How many millions of acorns has this sessile oak tree produced in its 800 or so years of life. How many autumns has it lived through? Perhaps as many as 800. Our lives seem so small and precious, fragile in comparison to this natural treasure.

Cowdray Park - 16-9-2019 djg lo-res-16

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Devils Dyke - 2-8-2019 - djg-6

In August my oldest friend Adam George came home for the summer from where he lives in China. Adam makes videos about travel in China as well as his job as an English teacher out there. Having known him since we were about 4, I think his accent is now a lot less south London after 5 years in China! My friend Jamie however, still a Londoner.

Adam wanted to make a short travel video about the South Downs. We went to Devil’s Dyke in West Sussex and this is what he produced. You can see me talking about the Sussex Weald and suncream.

You can see Adam’s YouTube channel here.

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