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  • Matthew Slater

Alder Carr

I am siting on a fallen tree in a small area of alder carr near Hitchin. I have cycled passed it many times but never stopped to look at it in detail, now, on a bright and warm spring day I push my bike down off the road through young nettles to observe it more closely.

During the winter, this area is often underwater to a depth of several feet. The exposed alder roots clearly show how deep they can be submerged. Now, with the lack any significant rain for many weeks the ground is dry.

Chiffchaffs sing in the alder trees whose leaves are beginning to open creating the first dappled sunshine of the year. Flies buzz around creating a low background droning and several bumble bees explore the woodland floor, flying as close to ground level as they can. Nettles are only around 20cms high, growing through the carpet of moss and last years leaves. A blackbird sings nat far away. A green woodpecker ‘yaffles’ in a meadow nearby.

The shadows are strong in the afternoon spring light beneath a cloudless sky. There are some willows here too.

There is a mallard on a patch of stagnant water within a denser part of the carr and I decide not to disturb it.

As I walk around each footstep sinks a few centimetres into the ground with a sense that it could sink deeper if I were not careful. The unseen subsoil still probably saturated with water. Some slightly higher areas are much drier and firmer, if only by a few inches. I almost regret leaving my footprints in the soft earth wherever I go. Old dry leaves crunch underfoot and fragile sticks crack. There is lots of moss but very little lichen.

Alder roots spread out into the murky ground. In some places you can see under the main trunk with the trees supported on a tangle of tentacle like roots.

There is a smell of mint in the air and it is growing in many places - will have to come back and see it in flower to identify it.There are some yellow flags along the far edge.

A fallen willow tree, with its trunk now horizontal a couple of metres off the ground, has sprouted numerous new vertical branches along the whole of its length. It is a tree that refuses to die and will sprout from whatever part of its wood is still alive.

I’ll come back another day when I don’t have my bike to watch over.

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