He made his way slowly along the well trodden and well remembered path. Once he had run, no raced along this self same path, once he had strode along this self same path, once he had trod stealthily along this self same path but now he shuffled, one of the carers at the Old Folks Home had called him Old Shufflin’ Sid but said with a twinkle not at all unkindly.
His senses and his memory were still as sharp as ever and over there to his left he saw the old hollow tree that in his youth had been a castle where the Cavaliers or was it the Roundheads had been fought off, where the US Cavalry had fought off hoards of Apache braves, where the Captain of the ship struggled to save it from the raging sea. Further on there was the gap, like a window, no not a window, like a, yes that was it like a telescope through which you could see passed the old barn right out to the lighthouse still winking its warning to the passing ships. Yes that was it the hollow tree had also served as his lighthouse in those distant remembered days.
That tree yes that one there with all the holes round its roots that was where he had snared his first rabbit, how proud when he, aping his dad, had dropped it onto the scrubbed deal kitchen table with a “here yar mum one fer the pot” He shuddered as recalled how later he had realised just how cruel the double loop snare he had used was but it had not seemed so in those childhood days.
Further on he stopped by his special tree and there he could still make out the carved heart with SN at one side and SS on the other. SS, Sarah his one love and how different his life would have been had she lived. Funny he thought you never hear of young ‘uns dying from Whooping Cough these days. A single solitary tear travelled through the cheek of his well creased face.
He remembered another time when he had inherited from his dad the rough shooting rights in the wood. The fateful day when he had shut Judy his gun dog in the outhouse and taken Trixie a young dog he was training to the wood. Seeing a movement in a nearby thicket he had fired the twelve bore and dispatched Trixie to retrieve the kill. It was only when Trixie let out a fearful howl that he had realised something dreadful had happened. Judy had somehow got out and made her way to the wood and he, Sid, had shot her. He had gone straight home carrying Judy’s lifeless form, buried her, took the axe to his shotgun and taken the gun and its licence to the police station and handed them to the Sergeant and he had never been shooting again.
As he approached the clearing soon to be filled with bluebells which in happier times he and Sarah had taken home in great armfuls never giving a thought to their unsuitability for once picked their lives were an extremely short one. The wood had been renowned for its flora and as well as the Bluebells there was at the woods edge a ditch with an abundance of cowslips and primroses, the bordering hedge had provided a secluded haven for the delicate violets as shy as his comely Sarah. Underfoot there were the buttercups and daisies and many other that he recognised but even after a lifetime he could not put a name to.
In the clearing he had learned to recognise the edible mushrooms that had provided him with many a breakfast, he mused on the foraging he had done in earlier days and the free food the wood had provided Bullaces for jam, elderberries for home made wine and elderflowers for a cordial which when fizzed up with Andrews liver salts also had a medicinal purpose, the blackberries all these flourished in the wood encircling hedge. Soon there would be the aroma of Wild Garlic another free offering and then if you knew where to look there was the most delicious mushroom of all, you had to look up and not down to see the chicken of the woods growing on the gnarled bark of the more ancient trees.
Now through the clearing Sid shuffled through the chestnut trees although it was early spring there were still many un-gathered nuts strewn around, “what is wrong with people moaning about prices but not gathering what is there for free” he muttered to himself. His mind went back to his childhood days with chestnuts roasting and spitting on the kitchen range. Just beyond the chestnuts was a solitary walnut tree to his knowledge it had only borne fruit once in his lifetime, how did it go? “A woman and a walnut tree, the more you beat them the better they be” more cruelty Sid thought he would never have laid a finger on his beloved Sarah.
Sid pondered the wood is where I had my childhood adventures, my youthful liaisons and it provided me with much of my food and many of life’s lessons, this must be my final resting place, this is where my ashes must be scattered.
He continued to wonder, as he always would, how different things would have been had his Sarah not been taken from him. He had been a presentable and shy young man and there had been many village girls who had given him the glad eye but for him it could only be Sarah.
I suppose, thought Sid as the light begun to fade and a damp shiver ran through his wiry frame, Vicarage Wood has been the nearest thing I have had to a love through my years.
He set off out of the wood shuffling along the well trodden, well remembered path.