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The wood with the dancing trees

Today we went to the renowned Speulderbos nature reserve to continue our creative photography journey. It is one of the oldest forests in the Netherlands, with evidence of human habitation going back to 2800BC. And local legends about witchcraft, spirits and devil-worshipping abound and it is said the the bells of an ancient monastery ring in the night. A forest reserve since 1989, there are mainly beech and oak trees. But the beech are becoming more dominant, making the forest darker, while many of the old beech trees are decaying, leaving more and more broken branches and tree stumps on the forest floor.

As we approached the edge of the forest, I gasped at the sight before me. I sat quietly and just looked for a while. It had rained heavily during the night, and the wet tree trunks were matt black against the mosaic copper of the beech-leaved floor. The leaves in the canopy a kaleidoscope of green to gold to yellow, with bright flashes of orange. They were dancing in the breeze above my head, with white clouds scudding past. The lush green of the squidgy moss clinging on to the black tree bark caught my eye, along with the shapes of the trunks. Some were crooked and twisted, spared when their straight companion trees were felled for ship building. They looked like they were dancing.

The overnight rain had left a dampness in the air, a misty feel, which the sun began to cut through in glimpses. Long shadows reached across the forest floor towards me with pathways of glistening wet beech leaves in between. The fresh chill of the autumn air on my face along with the breath of sunlight felt very autumnal.

And as I sat and marvelled, I continued my musings about autumn. The trees are shedding their leaves to save their energy during the winter. But before they drop, their remaining energy is absorbed into the tree and stored in the roots for use in the dark weeks ahead. I thought about this transition and tried to make connections with my own life. How I withdraw into my home more as the nights pull in and the temperature drops.

As I looked along the lines of the trunks I noted their differing sizes and thicknesses. Trees of different ages, a timeline in the forest. I found myself drawn to the jagged tree stumps, their former glorious canopies lost over time, now sheltered by the younger trees. The scattered broken bits of their once-strong branches lay like the dismembered remains of fallen companions. But they will still be part of this forest ecosystem for years to come, providing much-needed sustenance. Stunted, maimed, disfigured, yet retaining a sense of stature and purpose as they continue their decay into the forest floor.

I rose, picked up my phone and took some sketch shots to orientate myself, aware of my privilege to be photographing this iconic place.

So hard to capture the vision that opened up before me. Overwhelmed by the story it told.

The light through the mist changed the tones. My eye was drawn the skeletons, the wreckage.

and then here comes the little upstart, stating its case to be among the giants, being nurtured and protected by their strength. A sign of hope for the future.

I experimented with ICM on my phone to see what I could capture, gradually lengthening the time the shutter was open to distil the essence of this unusual and evocative wood. Today the spirits were dancing, mine and the trees.

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