Woodland is this week’s writephoto prompt from KL Caley at New2Writing.com. I did hear someone say they thought this a less-than-inspiring picture, but I delved into the depths of those watery shadows straightaway. This is around 750 words, and a sort of semi-non-fiction homage to my favourite things.
A Quiet Woodland Walk – Not!
She was out for a walk in the woodland. Map in hand, compass clutched in her grip over it, dibber attached to her finger, and walking pole in the other hand. You needed four hands to orienteer these days. And better eyesight than she had now.
Orienteering was not supposed to be a quiet walk in the woodland. It was a big enough forest, and she was on a small enough course, to only see other competitors in the distance, as they flashed through between the trees, intent on their line, leaping over streams like this one, and on, ever on to the next control point. She had run, for several years. When she’d been fitter, fit enough to be competitive. But she’d slowed down and done other things, and by the time she took up the sport again, the idea of running was outside her comprehension.
Her line took her directly through the forest, since it seemed an awfully long way round by the paths. She was generally better on paths, less hesitant. Her walking pole lent her confidence and balance, but she was still prey for a strand of bramble unseen among the vegetation, lying in wait to draw her onto her hands and knees. Yet she enjoyed being in the forest. Brushing through the leafy trees was a joy, a connection with nature. And she’d always paid attention to the other life in the forest: moss, autumn fungi, tracks of deer, squirrels chittering at her as she passed.
She strode on at the best pace she could muster. This was an event where she might earn points for her club, and they only missed out on advancement by one point last year. One more point was just one place higher by one counting team member. And despite everything, she was still part of the team. That felt good. Even in her supervet age class, she could make a contribution.
She glanced at her compass, held in the direction she planned to go, with the north needle correctly aligned. Yes. She needed to cross this stream. It wasn’t deep. Showed signs of iron in the soil hereabouts. Maybe she would just divert slightly onto that set of stones. Were they intended as a crossing? Maybe they’d been set there in medieval times by people smelting iron in the area. Or charcoal burners, who camped in the woods, made their charcoal in those pits she had such trouble getting into and out of when the darn course-setter put the control at the bottom! Planners today, they hadn’t had the training she’d had when she was organising competitions, that was for sure.
A runner overtook her. One of her own team, in club colours, several decades younger. The team mate changed legs, took a single stride into the water, and was out again on the other side. Probably hadn’t been in the stream long enough for their foot to get wet. Well, she’d just have to take it steady on the stones. Her pole would help her.
She’d made it! Hardly any time wasted; she could see the earthbank she was aiming for through the trees now she’d pushed through the vegetation by the stream. Onwards, straight as you can, or follow an animal path in the right direction. Always keep an eye on landmarks: banks, path junctions, stream bends, pits, thicker stands of trees mapped in a darker colour…
Breathing hard in the fresh air, she strode on to the next control, having flashed her dibber at the electronic tag on the control site. So much easier than when she was young. As long as the batteries in the electronic kit lasted. Only one more control and she would be at the finish.
It was a lovely wood, she would come back here if it was not so far away from her home. Maybe there were bluebells in spring?
No, stop day-dreaming. Keep your mind on the course or you’ll miss a turn. Tiredness brings mistakes. Was that the turning she needed? Yes—now for the last control and the finish. That’ll be where all those other runners are heading, as they gather together for the final run in.
There, that’s it, time to rest. Shame really, she would have liked to have spent longer out there. But she was a little out of breath, her hips were beginning to ache, and her feet were killing her.
It’s no fun getting old, unless you can take quiet woodland walks every now and then.
© J M Pett 2022
Find out about orienteering at British Orienteering’s website. Or google your own country’s organisation.