The news that the bluebell drive at West Woods has had to be cancelled because of the wet weather will be especially disappointing to those who will now be unable to see them in all their glory.
Bluebell woods are one of the real wonders of England in the Spring and for many of us a visit to West Woods can feel like an important ritual that marks the month of May. One of the things that always strikes me when I go is that it feels as if I am seeing them for the first time. The particular combination of pale green beech trees and the hazy tone of the blue bells may be the same each year, but somehow I can never quite remember it.
Equally, the different shades of green that abound at this time of year elude the memory so that each year can seem like ‘the best ever’ because each year feels like the first!
Usually in life, we are anxious if we think our memory isn’t as good as it once was and we find ourselves wracking our brains to remember this name or that place. But the wonders of Spring seem to me to be enhanced by our inability to remember them fully, so much so that forgetting is a strange form of gift.
Perhaps it stems from the fact that what we are looking at is so intensely alive and can only be properly responded to in the present moment. Part of the power lies in the fact that the moment cannot be ‘captured’.
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins is one of Britain’s greatest writers about nature and would emphasize the way that when we really look at something and see it properly, we can get the feeling that it is looking back at us. In his journal of May 18 1870, he wrote
I do not think that I have ever seen anything more beautiful than the bluebell I have been looking at. I know the beauty of the Lord by it. Its inscape is mixed of strength and grace, like an ash tree.
Hopkins developed the word ‘inscape’ to emphasize the particularity or quintessence of a thing, ‘the thisness-and-not thatness’ of something. Related to this, Hopkins also wrote of ‘instress’ by which he meant the power (of God) that keeps individuality in being.
For Hopkins and for many people of faith the natural world thus points beyond itself and bears God’s signature. But all of us, whether people of faith or not, can delight in the beauty of West (and other!) Woods and look forward to the fact that no matter how many times we may have been here before we will discover it as if for the first time. A happy form of forgetting indeed!