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Mourning a forest

November 13, 2013

I am in mourning for a forest. It’s been a crazy few months and that’s not even mentioning my thesis (well, three chapters down; four to go; two of those in draft). Changed personal circumstances mean that I have to say a permanent goodbye to our home of 16 years in Co Derry, and I am in mourning, not for the house, so much, but that too; but mainly mostly and deeply for Learmount Forest.

Learmount  Forest  is just a small woodland in the foothills of the Sperrins, forestry-commission owned so there’s a lot of Sitka spruce, but also swathes of beech, their copper leaf litter quilt-thick in this season; patches of oak and chestnut; and the hills currently larch-golden. And ash, dare I mention them, breath held for the dieback, but for now they are healthy, their leaves garish. It’s always most beautiful in the two seasons of transition: autumn and spring. The pale green light strained through the early soft leaf of beech; the white candles of chestnut; and of course, the eruption of bluebells in April or May, after the drear of an Irish winter, the intense waxy green of their leaves almost as intoxicating as the indigo of their vivid flowers, growing up the flanks of bluebell hill to assail sight and breath.

Down by the river, where the trees break to fields on the opposite bank, the view expands to glacier-scraped drumlins, bright green, spattered with sheep. This is hill farm country and it’s bleakly beautiful. Beyond again the rolling undulations of the tundral autumnal Sperrins, where, when the wind gets up, you can hear the howls of the last Irish wolves.

In Learmount, I regularly meet buzzard, raven, dipper, heron. I have seen stoats, foxes, the prints of otters; I have witnessed the extinction of our Irish red squirrel, its replacement by that north American invader, the grey, which I nonetheless can’t bring myself to hate. I have written so many poems out of the forest’s light and lignen, its seasonal shifts of hue and shape; the faces of flowers, the voices of birds. I ran to this forest for solace. I was walking in it while my mother was dying, and that morning I saw dipper, buzzard, heron. Now I have to leave and I could weep. I can’t believe I have to let this place go. I am guilty of magical thinking: maybe we can keep both houses; maybe I can write a bestseller and buy it back… maybe …. maybe …. maybe .

The forest sustained me throughout many upheavals, its promise and forgiveness, its ultimate indifference, all equally consoling. Out of those woods came poetry, field work, the possibility of a new life and change; out of that soil, came rootedness, belonging. Just to walk into the forest’s shelter, under the dome of the rook-cawed canopy, the thrush-rinsed branches, was to feel the sap of my own self rising, peace descending, to re-set my often frantic mind. I came back to myself in that forest. Now I have to let it go.


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  1. You have powerfully conveyed the level of your grief in leaving your beloved home and forest. I can hear that the forest creatures and the shelter of those gorgeous trees have provided comfort and solace and companionship at times when you would otherwise have fallen apart. Bless you and A. moving forward, and I’m not sure that all magical thinking is to be discarded. Sometimes it’s those dreams that help us to say goodbye to something or someone for a time and can direct us into the future where a remembered longing helps us reach new goals. My personal dreams have been somewhat small, but some of them I’m only realizing now–in my 60s. You have some remarkable accomplishments given the turmoil–your fieldwork and study, and now working on your thesis. I hope this transition will bring many happinesses that can’t yet be seen, and that the pain of leaving your home and place will soften. And maybe one day you will indeed have the means to return if the longing stays with you. I do hope so–I’m often guilty of magical thinking. I think that’s just fine. Debra oxo

  2. Debra, you always such a support and celebrant! Thank you so much for your beautiful words and sentiments. It is hard to move on, but I have also so much to be grateful for and to celebrate. My dreams have perhaps always been too large which may explain why I feel having to adjust them to the stringencies of the world, so painful. Or maybe I’m finally just staring middle age in the face! I will take you at your word – magical thinking is just fine. And even writing about the imminent loss, your response, has helped already. I love that phrase ‘a remembered longing helps us reach new goals’. Thank you for all your good wishes xo

  3. I know you don’t write with the intention of making me cry, but your words are so powerful, so evocative, that tends to be the result 🙂
    Dreams cannot be too large.

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