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Driving through the forest

December 28, 2009

We’re running late. Long lines of traffic have blighted our journey from London.

We try all sorts to take our minds off our inevitable late arrival but a cd copy of the National Theatre of Brent, Sheila Dillon with her Food Programme and Elaine Paige and her failed attempts enthusing about the year in musical theatre just fade into the background. Our attention is divided equally between the bright red brake lights directly in front of us and the sight of the digital clock on the dashboard reminding us of our ever worsening late-arrival.

Lunch with my parents was meant to kick-off at 1pm. It’s ten past when we finally turn off the main road and into the final leg of our journey. The forest.

The drive through the forest is a unexpectedly arresting affair. I must have made this journey thousands of times. First as a passenger to and from school, later as a hopeful and excited teenager cutting my parents’ time home in record time. A few years later it was a reluctant drive home from University, years later a surprising reminder of just how much shorter a drive the journey really is. The drive through the forest has – whatever way you look at it – gone largely unnoticed.

And yet it feels as though I know the road. It’s twists and turns, it’s strange bumps or the dips to avoid are part of its weird and wonderful beauty. There’s a rhythm to the route. I might be a passenger but I can sense the small turns I need to make to my imaginary steering wheel to guide the vehicle to our destination.

The road carves its way through Forestry Commission land. It’s been a part of my childhood. Always there. Deep, dark and expansive. Miles of unexplored pathways amongst acres and acres of towering trees, all regimentally planted out. It always seemed like an unfeasibly large and powerful expanse. So much so I saw no reason to look at it or question its’ mortality.

Then one trip home from University I notice massive gaps in the horizon. I was able to see sky where I hadn’t done nbefore. Vast areas of the forest had been cut down. In it’s place, tips of new trees appear above the true mess of the forest floor below. Forests really are quite messy places, aren’t they?

Someone had invaded. They’d rearranged things. They’d been unforgiving. They’d changed things around. Someone else owned this space. I didn’t like it. It was like returning from school shocked to learn my mother had discovered my under-bed “storage” area and taken appropriate corrective action.

Our journey to my parents had thrown-up another surprise fifteen years later. The gaps in the forest – the gaps I’d grown used to after repeated visits home – had lessened. The tips I remember seeing fifteen years ago now looked down on us as we sped along the road. The view had changed without me appreciating it would.

Time had moved quickly. Uncomfortably so.

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