What I see at this time of year is butterflies searching for a place to hibernate, free from cobwebs and other dangers, and partridges in threes, in every gateway on the farm – in Spring, they are in twos. I see huge and amiable toads and smaller but equally likeable frogs, waiting patiently by the back door for us to open it and let them proceed down the steps to the garden, as they undoubtedly have been doing for millennia, long before our house, begun in 1666, was abruptly placed on their ancient marching route.
I see the last wood vetch in brilliant flower under the oaks in the old woodland. I happily admit this year was the first year I’d found it after 39 years of looking, inspired to search by reading Broadway, written in 1904 by Algernon Gissing:
The gateway opposite the old church…was then hidden beneath trees, almost blocked between overgrown hedges, and in its dilapidated state gave entrance to a domain which, in my boyhood, realised all the elements of romance. Your footstep broke an enchanted quiet…the road was but a track for farm carts, with trees interlaced above you and positive jungle on each side, brambles and wild roses, traveller’s joy, honeysuckle, bryony and woodland vetch. Of this last, almost the fairest of woodland flowers, I never saw such profusion as in Coneygree Lane…I am not sure that the flower is to be found at all now in those old haunts…
We have owned Coneygree Lane since 1980 and it has taken me a long time to prove him wrong!
Learning how to go for a walk, standing still, has been a revelation. Former walks had revealed gorgeous plants and trees, disappearing deer, dipping woodpeckers, uplifting gold finches; but striding softly, then waiting and watching, has given me glimpses of basking lizards juxtaposed with hiding toads, and the feeling of being watched by snakes’ eyes all around me.
I see our horned rams crashing their concrete heads into one another in the field, then grazing unconcerned. In order to see all our livestock at least once every 24 hours, as the code of good farming practice dictates – not that any farmer should need such advice – equates to countless hours each year, bumping round in an off-road 4×4 with its emissions and big, bad carbon footprint.
At this time of year, mid-October, I need to walk instead to save damaging the soil, and of course, in doing so, I see so much more: bats, barn owls, moths. And I see the moon getting up, and very early this morning, I caught it going to bed: pale, ethereal streaks of silver, determined to shine till quite snuffed out by cloud.
The steepish field that in the last late June was overcome with colour: betony, tormentil, pignut, dyer’s greenweed, crimson clover, spotted orchids in a giant circle. It now looks bare, but the walker sees the last, small defiant heads of sheep’s bit, crane’s bill and yarrow and a seemingly infinite number of different fungi: singly, emergent, enormous, tiny, grouped, climbing trees, sheltering snails, feeding slugs, looking alluring, edible, dangerous, irresistible.
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