Sunday 12th March 2017
The walk down the concrete road is long and dreamlike in the grey light. A faint and illusive fog shrouds the world beyond, holding in the calls of sparrows and finches and robins that dart and chatter amongst the hedgerows.
I stride out, keen to move beyond the road where dogwalkers pack their pockets with plastic bags.
Along the perimeter of the park, bare trees stand motionless in the calm morning, with six or seven woodpigeon in the higher reaches, silhouetted and still, weighted almost, like forgotten decorations in the rain.
At the signpost, fog extends out to the horizon beyond the rapeseed fields. The newgrowth is already seven or eight inches tall and covers the open ground between here and the barn on the farthest incline. Small sounds carry further in the fog. Sparrows confer from disparate hedgerows, a lone crow rows lazily across the undifferentiated greys of cloud and sky.
Skidded bootprints mark the mud. A man in a blue waterproof jacket jogs past, ignoring my raised fingers and good morning. Along the edges of the fields, last year’s grass hangs translucent against the wire boundary. What was once a decaying multitude has been pared back to only the most stubborn ghosts of summer. At their base, lush and verdant grasses clump, hoarding space before new nettles can spring. They’re starting, already.
A palette of greens and browns and murky yellows channels me down towards the bridge, the stream, the embankment: to what I have, in previous posts, called a site of exclosure. A magpie ratchets somewhere beyond the indecipherable slope. Plantlife waits languorous and silent in the pale light of the lee side.
Before thoughts or words about why, my knees give way: dipping my head down to avoid two courting goldfinches that then spiral up and over the dark and brittle hawthorn. Their undersides are lithe and pale. I’d felt a sudden surge of adrenaline calling the body to action, from the neural pathways of the reflex arc to the network of nerves along my fingers. I run my hand through my hair for no definite reason. I write this down. I walk on.
To the left and right of the pathway lies a palimpsest of rusted hazel catkins: remnants of a summer passed, blown groundward in the storm with sincere finality.
I round the corner into the headwind once again and four blue tits dip into the impenetrable milieu of hawthorn, bramble, holly and concrete rubble excavated from the fields that surround the embankment.
Over the railway, I tread carefully towards the turn in the watercourse. The heron sees me immediately. The limits of its body are marked chalklike against the mulch of folded rushes and cowslip at the water’s edge. I wait. Two women pass with two tired jack russells, Charlie and Bertie. I point out the heron, as it stands now, in the middle of the fieldscrub near the railway. If they are impressed, they are not keen to show it.
As their diminishing forms labour over uneven ground, I traverse the bank until I’m by the water. It is flowing fast, peppered with raindrops that distort the reflection of the opposite bank, inverted and supported by a foundation of grey sky there on the surface of the water.
A dry concrete pipe I’ve never noticed protrudes from the grass. I sit on it and let my legs hang either side. It’s big enough for me to crawl inside. I don’t. A DVD case is open on the ground, it’s paper sleeve long since perished in the rain, or more likely in the river before it came to rest here amongst the other flotsam.
I wait still and quiet for the heron to return but it doesn’t. It’s still raining. I put my glasses in my pocket and pull down my hood to listen. The raindrops on the water sound like a distant ocean. A chaffinch sings from the very top of the sycamore behind me. As I turn to look, it swoops down to join another in flight between the trees and bushes that separate the two vast fields here. An oasis for birds and insects amongst vast monocultures.
I keep listening. My view is limited to the steep banks of the watercourse and the ceiling of grey sky that looks close enough to touch if only I was willing to stretch.
Will I miss this place?
I hear the same chaffinch, a chiffchaff, a green woodpecker. Nine crows pass in silence.
I stand and the familiar pup pup of a shotgun finds me through the dissipating fog. Fifty woodpigeon erupt from a distant oak and fly out and up in chaotic conformity. They dip low as they near the river, banking left and rising fast above me, on over the sycamore, dissolving silently in the sky beyond.
The walk back to the concrete road is long and straight and slick with fresh tyre tracks. To my right a few sporadic clusters of rapeseed have shown their yellow flowers, dotted amongst the rest like stars in a bleached green universe. The lone oak stands and I take a picture on my phone, possibly my last of that specific tree. The hedgerows are conspicuously quiet as I make my way along them, but on stopping to listen, they once again come to home a cacophony of sparrow chorus.
I almost meet the road when a single goldfinch catches my attention. It continues to recite its chattering refrain, beating its wings against the pull of gravity. It passes me and heads straight up, shrinking in a fixed position against the monochrome sky. I step out from under the birch trees to watch. The bird climbs higher yet its call does not diminish. I continue to stand. I continue to watch, head tilted back. The bird climbs higher, and yet its call does not diminish.
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