Christmas Eve, 2017
I don’t think I’ve ever gone walking on Christmas Eve before – I’m usually up to my eyes in icing sugar and marzipan, putting the finishing touches to the Christmas cake or wrapping up the last few presents – but this year I felt a strong pull towards the outdoors, towards the woods. Shenley Wood in particular. It’s funny, I’ve still never been there in the summer. Always autumn or winter, when the trees are at their witchiest and the thick mud tries to steal my boots.
I took my usual route over there, past a tiny children’s playground by Shenley Church End. I’ve never once seen any children playing there, which is one of the reasons why I don’t feel too bad about my custom of commandeering one of the swings for a few moments. I was just hopping off the swing, after a few minutes of soaring contemplation, when I spotted something most unusual. A structure built over the roots of one of the tall trees in the park, the ones with the fantastically textured trunks. As you can see from the photographs, it’s been put together meticulously and with great care. You might also remember that December ’17 was a wild and windy month, and this little – dwelling? – looked as thought it might blow away at the lightest touch of breeze. I crouched down on the cold, muddy grass and peered under the sticks to see if there was anything hidden under there, a treasure or a toy or something darker. But no, there were only a few glossy green leaves under there, at least as far as I could see with the light from my phone. It was extremely dark under there.
I circled that tree and its friends carefully, and looked up into the branches in case I was missing another doll perching there, but not today. Just a neat little stick house at the base of a tree.