On the New Forest

20.20, Friday 10 May 2019

Perhaps everyone has an ur-place–a place by which all others are understood–maybe they do and maybe they don’t, but mine is where I grew up and it’s the New Forest

(which isn’t new, as it was founded 900 years ago, and it is barely a forest–mostly heath and scrub and copses)

I’m here now and I’ve been out for a run. I can’t say I miss it when I’m not here, but when I come back to this landscape which is evidently imprinted deep in my psyche somewhere, my heart swells to bursting

so running is a matter of stumbling from one overwhelming heavenly moment heart bursts the pool of bluebells nestled under the tree! to another overwhelming heart bursts the sun beams dappling through the branches into the deep woods! to another…

till eventually on a bridleway on the open forest (which, so you can picture it, is low rolling heath with grass and ferns with gorse bushes and ponies and donkeys, going misty blue into the distance), running, I couldn’t take it anymore, and stopped and looked at the grass

under my feet. The grass between the ferns and heather and gorse is cropped like a lawn, kept that way by the horses who live on the forest, and the grass of course is green but then you look at it, and I can’t help but inventory the colours

grass green


pale blue greens

sun-bleached yellow

deep moss green shadows, all of these blades of grass, all different

auburn tips of unfurling new shoots

deep brown, light beige

between: bone white

because the forest is on a chalk bed, so you get these startling whites, and the water when you see it runs crystal clear, chalk streams they’re called, so the soil not just brown but grey and hazel



lichen–a pale fire

then: tiny: you don’t notice them at first: lilac petals

These are the two shocking colours of the forest: tiny bright, secret purples foreshadowing the purple carpet of the heather that will come out in the autumn; and yellow, the bright yellow flowers of the gorse, a million points of light like the stars in the milky way

all over this infinity of greens and browns and whites, a full half of my gaze, the bottom half is green, and the top half blue–the sky–and to notice that the world, the regular old world, is painted in primary colours, I lose my breath again

So the rest of the run I alternate between stopping and looking at the plants, the horses, the horizon, getting lost in it–and sprinting as hard as I can, feeling the land and the sky in my legs and my lungs

If I showed you a picture it wouldn’t make any sense. The real picture is how it shaped me and what it feels like to come back, my own psychic contours exactly complemented and filled by the landscape I am in once again.

Calvino in Invisible Cities, after 55 magical descriptions of faraway places: Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice. His ur-place. The New Forest is mine.

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