Ocksey Daisies & Open Gates.
Trying to clear thoughts muddled by persistent headaches, I go for a little lie down – on the broad open flank of the hill. Evening, and nothing but the sound of skylarks and meadow pipits singing their way up and back down to the grass wigwams of their nests, and the metallic jangle of a corn bunting, right on the edge of my hearing. Above me in the grass, five brown hares groom their long elegant ears and wash their whiskers.
Earlier in the day, I’d been caught in summer thunder and heavy rain on the old flint ‘London Lane’ through the wood. The understorey of privet, box and dog’s mercury quivered under the deluge and lightning flashed off the wet, human-like torsos of the beech trees. A goshawk called repeatedly from the opposite wood to add to the thrilling tension and the rain pummelling the foliage beat up a heady cocktail of scents: elderflower, wild honeysuckle, dog rose and the beaten, spent leaves of wild garlic.
The thunder rolling round the valley brought the number of old lightning trees to my attention; not always the tallest trees, they bore wide, pale, to-the-bone scars on one side, barkless from branch tip to root.
I am wary, too, of the many great, towering ash trees; most seem to have succumbed to ash die-back and are becoming treacherous; the tell-tale diamond shape wounds in their trunks and holes in thick boughs have made them brittle and unstable. Their demise will change the landscape dramatically over the next few years, as the loss of elms did in the 1970s. I can hardly bear to think about it.
As the rain eases to a rising steam and the track becomes a shallow river, I emerge into the light.
Before the rain, I walked up to a favourite, familiar place I know intimately and have been shut out from. A high meadow with a view across the valley into Wiltshire and Hampshire, the field is white with thigh-high ox-eye (or ocksey) daisies. It is a permissive, emotional trespass of sorts and the joy of being here again is irrepressible. All that’s missing is the sweet, walloping, yodelling cry of lapwing & the creak of their broader-at-the-tip owlish wings. I do not know for certain that any nested up here this year.
A hare springs up at my next footfall. I hadn’t seen it at all. In one leap it has gone into the tall stems, vanishingly quick. I put my palm down where it lay, in the understorey of yellow rattle, quaking grass and crested dog’s tail and feel the warmth it has left me.
That night, my husband unfolds a new map, replacing an old one, worn soft as cloth with use. We pore over ground we know intimately, tracing contours & fences, familiar as the head & heart lines on our palms and reveal fresh revelation & prospect; here is a blurred line, a secret kept from me. Some of the old field names are there (not all) but access land is new. And with it, permission. A gate thrown wide as the sky.