31 Oct 2009

Samhain among the ancient oaks


Right this way, if you please:

There are many ways to spend the day that is synonymous with spirits and other worlds: trick or treating, donning costumes, consuming candy, or just lighting the candles and watching the heavy moon sail through the black sky.

For weeks I have been hoping for good weather for Samhain because I wanted to visit the old oak forest in Dalkeith, not far from Edinburgh. This time of year the clouds often roll in by 11am, so I got up early in order to be there while the sun was still blazing through the branches.
What is left of the ancient forest of Caledon is like a whisper compared to what used to be, but each tree is now like a gem. Some of these trees are more than 700 years old, their trunks twisting like spines stuck in yoga postures. All of the trees are numbered. My favourite from today is 721, the trunk of which is like a coil of bulbous growths. I also loved the many fallen trees, some of which have deep slits down their middles. Even some of the oldest, collapsed specimens still have branches that bear leaves. The cycle continues, their deaths the longest, softest sigh.
I was too late for acorns. The fallen leaves have created a thick blanket on the ground and the squirrels rush through the branches, gathering anything that may have been left behind. It is the leaves themselves which are now the best part of the show. They range from still slightly green to deep yellow, to dark brown and curling at the edges. Every gust of wind brought down a shower of them and at times I would hear a hissing sound on the trail behind me and turn to where I expected to see a cyclist or an animal, only to watch a small wave of leaves being pushed along the ground.

At first I pointed my camera frantically around, desperate to catch the pageantry of death that was the falling leaves. But after just a few clicks I laughed at myself and fell silent, content to just watch them and to breathe in the damp scent of decay blossoming underfoot. I saw a tiny spider climbing onto a dying leaf, not a safe bet for the start of a new web.

If you are ever in Edinburgh and have had enough of cobbled streets and old buildings, and you want to see something that will truly work a spell on you, visit this place. It is magic.

Wishing you a happy, spirit-filled Samhain.

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