Sniggery Wood

Sniggery Wood

Sniggery Wood is not much of a wood but I always liked its name. To snigger means to half suppress a secret laugh. That suggests to snigger is to feel superior to the one who is sniggered at. Sniggery is not in the dictionary. If it was, maybe it would define sniggery as being in a state to snigger. I searched for sniggery on line. I found the word snig. A snig is a word for a small eel I read. On another site, I found that snig is a word for a grass snake. That makes sense, I thought. A grass snake looks like a small eel, one that lives on land and not in the sea. Flowery means abounding in flowers, so sniggery could mean crawling with snigs, more commonly known as grass snakes. Slippery, slimy, words associated with snakes, add to them, sniggery. Sniggery Wood could mean a wood crawling with grass snakes. Someone named it so sometime. Maybe a farmer or a land owner who knew there were snigs in the area. If you have not seen one before, a grass snake looks like a small eel. I can imagine walking through the wood to be suddenly startled by a snig on the path, a grass snake soon to slither away, not to be seen again. It is all right, the fright will soon pass.
No, Sniggery Wood is not much of a wood. It is just a long, narrow strip of stunted trees, twisting up, too close together, roots hid in tangles of bramble and nettle, that divides one flat crop field from another. Planted on, ploughed, harvested, and left to fallow through the seasons, the fields show signs of tractor wheel work. Crows and seagulls swoop low to nab worms, unearthed, exposed in the furrows to be eyed by winged scavengers. Slug slimed stone sat on by a newt, watching insects flit, skim stagnant surface of the mud brown water of the reed hidden ditch that runs along the west edge of Sniggery Wood and splits through the north fields.
I remember the secondary school cross country run for secondary school boys, sweating in shorts, vests and pumps. We ran as fast as we could, to get it over with. We thudded and clanked over the bridge of wooden planks that spanned the foul smelling ditch at the south gate of Sniggery Wood. I had a stitch in my right side, a sore throat, stiff, dry leg bones, blisters on the soles of my feet. My brain sagged in my head like a dust bag. The event seemed like a punishment, even to those who were thin, athletic. Round Wood Wall we ran, along the hard pavement that bordered the roads, until in the school changing room, we finished.
Further back, I remember the picnic we had in Sniggery Wood. Must have been summer. That means in the stuffy wood, there may have been moths, butterflies, bird song, unknown to us, possibly a snig in the grass. In my memory glass, I see me, my mother, my sister, and from next door, Mrs Cook, her son and daughter, and their rough coated small white dog, Louie. Maybe we did carry a picnic basket into the wood. Egg sandwiches, tomato and lettuce sandwiches, pork pies, we ate, maybe, swigs of pop, as we called lemonade, we drank. It is what happened after the picnic I remember most.
We strolled up the dirt track in the bright air, away from Sniggery Wood, on our way to the small village of stone cottages called Little Crosby with its Saint Mary church. I lagged behind. The others strolled on. I stopped, looked south, watched a moth fluttering on the edge of a crop field. Whatever it was the farmer grew in the field, wheat, barley or rye, I did not know. I just liked the way the long yellow stalks swayed and rustled in the low breeze. I did not want to follow the others. I wanted to walk in the field of stalks that were taller than me, and smelt better than bread and flowers. So I stepped forward, off the dirt track. My right foot failed to find hard grassy ground, only air, and I fell, down, into the stink and mud of a ditch I was blind to, that ran between the south edge of the dirt track and the crop field, for the summer growth of reeds and grasses kept it hid.
I squelched and struggled in the stinking mud that was up to my chin, my hands had nothing to grip on. The side of the ditch was steep and slimy.
“This is it,” said a low, cold voice, hardly there, thin as the reeds. I expected to die in the ditch. Help, I cried, more than once. They will never hear me, I thought, too far ahead. But the dog did. Louie barked above me. The hand of my mother lifted me up. Caked in mud and ditch slime, I could not speak. I stared all the way home, my brain blank. Amazed I still lived.
No, Sniggery Wood is not much of a wood but it was all we had, nearby. It is a gate to some memories. It is not far, a short walk away, but I have no wish to go back there.
“Enter these enchanted woods, ye who dare.”
I liked the line. It made me pause, smile. The rest of the poem and the poet who wrote it is shed from my memory. The line made me feel sad, too. I knew those woods could only be found and entered in fiction, a tale or a ballad, or in a dream, not in what is called the real world. Even in a forest of fine trees, there are no magical beings or mythical beasts to be met, no goblins, dwarves, elves, wizards or fairy folk. Certainly there is no enchantment in Sniggery Wood. I once imagined a tramp in a long black coat slept in a ditch near Sniggery Wood, and an old woman who lived in a white cottage not far from its miserable borders was a witch. With other children, I ran, scared by her front garden gate. The children we were are gone now. Sniggery Wood remains, will stay where it is. Its only threat is a snig in the grass.


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