Nature Notes

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.

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Nature Notes

Cowslipping, Part II.

Before the rain, we took a lesson in walking underwater, without getting wet. It is entirely possible to drown in the sensory celebration of a bluebell wood, even as they are almost over: the mist-blue haze floating at calf-height, lapping the trees; the sticky sappiness, the honey scent, the squeak and tangled shock of heads …

And then the rain did come, though it was sorely needed. Every puddle became a bomb-burst of birds on approach; birds bathing, drinking, soaking or collecting nest-building material. Chalky water ran like the spill from a cereal bowl off the fields, transporting the fallen bunting of blossom down the lanes.

In rainstormy weather, hares show up in unexpected places and the deep whickering rumble of a horse can sound like thunder. I’d gone to see the cowslips on the hill and even in dull, metallic light, they glowed. Careening hares slipped down the wet flank of the hill like out-of-control dragsters, all big end over front. Another appeared at the church crossroads, standing tall as a thoroughbred, straight-backed, long-legged, ears pricked.

In the days inbetween, drifts of birdsong came through like a feverish dream. Loud and clear, then indistinct; perhaps, imagined. A woodlark stopped me in my tracks once, and then a cuckoo. Songs to shock a heart desperate to hear them, before restarting it into a steadier rhythm. Birds as defibrillators.  

On the down in the sun at last, the cowslips form a sunshine haze. Millions of butter-yellow bells cover the broad expanse, resurgent from a long period of enforced dormancy from springtime overgrazing. Here is meadow saxifrage, too, and anthills; newly-worked castles of fine-sieved soil, transformed into blue pillows of speedwell and chalk milkwort. 

I expected the nectar-filled hill to be loud with insects and console myself that it will take time. There are whitethroats, yellowhammers, meadow pipits and the tented nests of skylarks, but my ears strain for the remembered key-jangle of corn bunting or long-gone turtle doves. There are swallows in the farmyard below, but just 2 pairs, not 12 like there were. When will there be none?

There is sad news that the last male nightingale on Salisbury Plain has failed to return. There were 10 in 2012. The last turtle dove was heard there in 2008. 

Unless we do something fast, these are our last years with the birds, as well as everything else. When the United Nations delivered their report on Biodiversity and Ecosystems recently, the news was grim and undeniable. It wasn’t just depressing, it was devastating.

Up to one million species, more than ever before in human history, are threatened with extinction. Some, within decades. Due to human activities, there is simply not the habitat for their long-term survival.

I think about my own ‘local extinctions’ since I started writing this column fifteen years ago. Roding woodcock, greenfinch in the garden, lapwing in the village fields, spotted flycatchers. House martins.

The UN calls for bold, collaborative action. But we can also act alone. Speaking up at any opportunity, threading the need for healthy ecosystems through everything we do. 

I stand among the cowslips and desperately want the volume back up. The range, subtlety, variation and loudness of spring is all diminished. I played a bit-part in bringing the cowslips back. Spoke up with a persistant, gentle insistence. A softer kind of activism, but an activism, all the same. Because, where the bee sucks, there suck I.

Nature Notes

Cowslips, Part I.

Through an open gateway, the wide expanse of Hippenscombe valley is full of flowering oil seed rape that glows against my skin – a buttercup under the chin. Yellowhammers spill onto the road, their lightbulb heads bright as the flowers and among them (almost missed) a thrilling glimpse of a yellow wagtail. A fast declining farmland bird, box-fresh from Africa in sunshine yellow, it calls three times, runs into the buttery crop and vanishes.

Washing-white cloud galleons sail over the hill like an endless flotilla of tall ships. In the small wood below the big hill, a cuckoo calls. Its voice catches in the thorns at intervals. Chased by cloud shadows, I realise it is still travelling.

A storm comes through and turns the barleyfield into a heaving, blue-green ocean. The wind curves and combs it into swirls and eddies, and races it up the slope towards the dog and I in waves of silver surf, to crash into the hedge. It is mesmerising. I try to film it but struggle to hold the phone steady.  It ripples like the pelt of a moving animal and is infectious. The dog and I run; her ears flying, my arms windmilling.  

Blossom strews the lane and salts the nettles. Flowers of the oak and miniature posies  of hawthorn flowers lie like the aftermath of a wedding. There is a sad, dead lamb. But also, a new foal, rain-freshened birdsong, mud to build nests with and the heady scent of lilac enhanced by thundercrack.

Back beneath the hill, the fast-changing cloudscape alters the light again and again, as if I am being shown a speeded-up, time-lapse panorama. It illuminates the linen folds and creases I know so well, only to hide them and reveal others in quick succession. I can’t take my eyes off it.

There is a yellow-green haze on the hill that I haven’t seen in ten years.

At the bottom, where it seems sheep go to die, there are vertebrae and a sprung ribcage, chalk bones springing cowslips. On the grassy pillow-tump of an anthill, a sheep’s skull rests as if it has just breathed its last, herb-scented breath.

Grazing sheep are essential to this flower-rich landscape, though in past years, they have been left on the down too long, the flowers grazed off and the insects and birds declined. This year, though, a grazing rotation is in place. In the evening light, the hill emanates gold; a heap of piled treasure and nectar. The impression of millions of tiny trembling yellow bells visible from the A4.

Nature Notes

Golden Valleys & Black Hills.

Two days in to a week’s stay at a farmhouse in Herefordshire and the low, white, obscuring cloud finally lifted, like a blindfold coming off. I began to orient myself.

Sunnybank Farm didn’t disappoint. Its big, comfortably shabby rooms and sash windows opened out onto a rushing stream and birdsong and absorbed and occupied all eight of us, as it must have done so many families in the past. We began to count and welcome the migrant birds back in: a couple of swallows, a whitethroat, the laughing, lifting lilt of a willow warbler; and chiff chaffs, mis-chiming like frustrated conductors trying to count in and regulate the blackcap’s wild, lovely, all-over-the-place notes. A hopeless task. The song, babbly and freeform as the stream.

On a soft, chilly spring day, we climbed the high, long whale back mountain of Hatterrall Ridge that, from a blue distance, reminded us of our big, half-height hill at home, if only in shape and not geology.

The ten-mile-long ridge of Offa’s Dyke divides England and Wales in this Marches country. We started from the small, linear settlement of Longtown below, with its Marcher Lord castle ruin, primary school and Mountain Rescue Centre, peppered along the ‘winter road’ to Hay-On-Wye’s book town.

We walked under the red sandstone landslip and vertical bedrock of Black Darren, stepping over tadpoles squiggling in a mountain rill. I wondered if they washed and wriggled down, or hatched here?

The view and climb are breathtaking. The knife edge skew path up was vertiginous and slippery with red clay. Nuthatches called from the small, cherry-frilled woods we left behind and a raven flew leisurely past, making the sound of a wooden spoon hitting a half-filled bottle. For added measure, he hugged his own body into a barrel-roll smooch as he went past.

And then we were on top of the world. To the north-east, The Black Hill curved around like the Cat’s Back it is also named for, as the ridge extended on to Hay Bluff. Opposite were the huge, mown circles of the grouse moor; misplaced Olympic Rings, or the home scars of giant limpets on some blackened, barnacled rock the sea had long left behind.

Below, the Vale of Ewyas; the deep valley falling away on the Welsh side, with its remote priory at Llanthony and farm, ‘The Vision’, that inspired Bruce Chatwin’s 1982 book On The Black Hill. The Olchon Valley fell away on our eastern, English side. Acres of dry, rufous bracken descending to small, deep-hedged, apple-green fields.

We walked along the flat spine of Offa’s Dyke, balancing between England and Wales, past peat-dark moor pools of drowned sundew, riffled with a light breeze. Skylarks sang above wheatear and wild ponies with long, wind-plaited manes.  

The pinched cone of Monmouthshire’s Sugar Loaf mountain rose ahead of us. But we had gone too far; far longer than agreed, looking for a different way down. The mountain side was unyielding and we were forced to retrace our steps.

The steep, narrow path required our full attention. The dog dropped the tennis ball she’d found and we watched it fall and bounce and fall away to the farms and their collies below, our hearts in our mouth. I sat back, hanging on to her lead, digging my heels in, just in case temptation overwhelmed her.

That evening, the Golden Valley came into its own. The name is a possible, delightful confusion of Welsh and French-Norman etymology. The River Dore (from the Welsh dwr for water) is remarkably similar to the French d’or, for gold.

But in the still-novel extra hour of syrupy light, the streamside celandines and banks of golden saxifrage opened to the sun; the great green-gold mistletoe balls weighted the perry pear and cider apple trees – all was golden, all was possible. I thought I heard an otter’s whistle from the stream. And when we approached tiny St Margaret’s church, with its intricately carved rood screen, wooden tower and gravestones marked with the farms that had grown the people there, I saw the barns and farm I’ve dreamt of since I was small. I could have driven my Britain’s Farm Land Rover through it. And when I leant on the five-bar gate next to its pleached and laid blackthorn hedge, and the horses raised their heads, I held out an apple for Black Beauty and Merrylegs.  We walked home, glowing.

Nature Notes

Lunch with an Otter.

A text came from my son at college, whilst I was at work. ‘You’ll never guess what I’m having lunch with!’ There followed the most exquisite video clip, taken on his phone. An otter, hunting the shallow stream at one of the entrances to Andover College, rolling, roiling and revelling in its element, stirring up chalk sediment, a crisp packet and riffling the thickening mat of watercress bobbing on the surface. In broad daylight, between a busy roundabout, car parks and classrooms.

I tweeted it (with his permission of course) and, with over 57K views, it went viral.

(NB, video below not playable, find it on Twitter @nicolawriting)

He’d walked right past it at first, glimpsing it before he realised what it was and stopped, in the midst of his long, countryman’s lope and walked backwards. Otter.

He watched it move under the gin-clear, chalkstream, fluent as a water snake, spiralling and turning on itself with the ease of a gymnast’s ribbon, writing itself in cursive flourishes through the water. He glimpsed a paw; a hindfoot kicking off, a thick, Labradorian tail working hard in a tight spot. He described how it swam thorough the pipe-tunnel of a road bridge and went up the bank: water thickening into fur, dissolving back into water. He saw the champagne belt of bubbles, fizzing in its wake, a bubbling galaxy of stars exploding in the dark water behind it. 

He enjoyed the spectacle for as long as he could. An unlikely wildlife watcher, perhaps; bass guitar in hand, leather jacket and Dr Martens on, a lad in need of a haircut, grinning, texting his Mum.

It’s not his first otter, but it might have been his best. He has spent a lot of time tracking otters with me, overwhelmingly fruitlessly (though not always). Even now, we cannot go near a body of water without ‘a quick look’. So his reward, a naturalist’s dream of a ‘walkaway view’ was richly deserved. He left and went to band practice.

The otters on the Andover’s River Anton are remarkable. A female with three grown cubs lives in its tributaries and lakes around the town, well-monitored, cocking a snook at what we think we know about otters. They remain tricksy animals to watch, predictably unpredictable, keeping to their own unroutine, napping at will. Any sighting of them largely given to chance.

But what is incredible is how this large predator, back from the brink, will adapt to live alongside us, given half a chance. As so much wildlife is willing to do.

Much like that other recovering top predator, the peregrine falcon, whose fortune echoes that of otters. The BBC cameras trained on Parliament, cut away to focus on a falcon tearing at its prey among the pinnacles of Westminster, while things fell apart inside. They panned away again. Another walkaway view.

Nature Notes

Running Wild

Weeks like these, I get my wildlife fix on the run.

Meeting my son off the bus fifteen minutes early, means quarter of an hour’s birdwatching on the hill inbetween. Or at school, helping students with their GCSE Speaking and Listening exams, I am delighted that some have chosen water vole conservation, plastic in the seas, or the subject of foxhunting to speak on. I watch the bare-faced cheek of rooks on the end-of-break bell, pulling litter out the bins for crisps and crusts.

On another trip to the bus stop, I fit in a run. It is a dun, damson and brown afternoon, rain-soaked and tractor flailed. But there are mauve and blue flashes of jays, white-bottomed as bullfinches in plum colours.

I run slowly, quietly, and discover I’m not the only one seeking the flat shelter of the valley bottom. Suddenly, I am running with hares, peeling off from potential boxing matches to join the chase for a few strides. Two muntjac deer are swept along, bumping shoulders, white flag tails up and waving, like the aerials on bumper cars. Roe deer jump the ditch ahead. Then, flowing through the wood and out into open pasture, the cream and brown gallop of a herd of fallow deer. They come loose from the wood as if a ribbon weft of them has been pulled through the warp of the upright wood; a fabric unravelling, a wood unspooling. They are the same colour as the trees and the earth, rain-darkened flanks running to pale bellies like cave paintings of themselves. There must be forty of them, just fifty metres away. I can hear the snick of the toes of their splayed, cloven hooves coming together, the rumble of a gallop slowing to a trot. They are not running from me and I wonder if they are running from what I might be running from?  It’s a profound, uncanny experience. They melt into the wood ahead and I discover that I’ve run for a full half hour.

Back in the car, I think how nature adapts to live and run alongside us quite well, if we let it.

I raised my voice this week in protest at the new trend of netting trees and whole hedgerows, to prevent birds nesting in them – and scupper plans for development, whether planning permission has been granted or not. And to a Tesco store in Norwich, netting off a trolley park that swallows had nested in in previous years, to prevent them returning there and making a mess of the trolley handles. Nature is a wraparound, intrinsic thing, woven through our daily lives and our shopping. Deer joining in with my Couch to 5K efforts, and swallows at the supermarket should be celebrated for the wonders and joys that they are.  

Nature Notes

Arcturus and the Foxes.

For the first time since October, blackbird song woke me before my alarm; a bar had been crossed.

The strange, unprecedented February heatwave triggered synapses alert to a season far more advanced than it actually was. It tripped a search, all senses primed, for joyful, familiar markers, a litany learnt and ingrained over decades. It is glorious. It is premature. It is not late April.

We scanned the village pond for signs of frogspawn and found none yet – but the frogs were there. Under green water, a princely webbed hindfoot waved and sculled away. The white seedheads of Old Man’s Beard, or ‘betwine’ lay thick as snow, masquerading as jelly-eyed frogspawn.  A blossom out of season.

There were a few celandines and the quince began to bud tiny red boxing gloves; flowers it was not yet ready to let go. Tightly balled handkerchiefs of tension. The only blackthorn blossom was in the towns, snowy on the roundabouts and dual carriageways, where it could bloom and berry and complete its purpose, away from the tractor and its flail.  

Above them were the basket-roofed nests of magpies, hoofed into trees like lost footballs, the middle winded out of them.

Against a swimming pool sky, I expected swallows and house martins, but we were weeks off that. The hot blue sky empty of birds didn’t correlate. There was a juxtaposition, a world turned upside down. It felt too much like presentiment. A power point slide of the near-future.

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But here came the brimstone butterflies, tumbling out of the ivy, up off the warming earth as if the primrose petals couldn’t sit still for joy and took off. A comma butterfly rested on a wall and the bees woke up. Half an hour in the garden and there were white and buff-tailed bumble bees and a hairy-footed flower bee, ginger legs dangling over the hellebores.

Past sunset and it was still 12 degrees. I went through pockets of damp mist chill and sudden rises in temperature. I put my hand down to feel the days’ heat emanating: a hand on the brow of the feverish earth.

 I went to bed uneasy, my cheeks burning.

The foxes woke me up. A vixen screaming loudly by the wood, and the woo-oo-oo of two dog foxes coming closer from opposite directions. There was a ruckus of yowls and screams. I leant out the window but all was dark. A car pulled up the lane and the headlights swept the field and caught the molten-orange eye-blink of vulpine eyes, 100m away. Tawny owls called from each corner of the wood and all points inbetween. A muntjac joined in the barking and set next door’s terriers off. The stars seemed unnaturally bright and close. Orion cartwheeled over the lane and the spring star Arcturus twinkled orange red. A celestial fox eye caught in a headlamp.

Nature Notes

An Extinction Rebellion.

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‘We are bovvered, though’ read a placard above a picture of Catherine Tate’s apathetic teenager Lauren Cooper. ‘We can get an extension on our essays, but not on our planet’ read another, and ‘This pale blue dot is all we’ve got’, ‘Respect your Mother’ ‘There is no Planet B’ went others. Articulate, thoughtful, funny and passionate, just like the people holding the banners.  The youth strike for the Climate Emergency on the last Friday before half term was a revelation.

It was also heartening. I started an Environment Club at University and my life has been chaptered by protests; mostly environmental ones. I’ve witnessed local extinctions on my home ground of birds that feature in the oldest books in our culture: nightingales, turtle doves, roding, breeding woodcock, nesting lapwing – all in the last 15 years. I’ve poured my heart out about that on these pages and in the book I’m writing.

When I was a teenager in the 1980s, the end of the world was pretty nigh, too. The idiocy of the grown-ups then, was nuclear war or ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’. No irony in the acronym, surely. The Domesday Clock was set at three minutes to midnight. I grew up to the chilling sound of the four-minute warning siren practice, and didn’t believe then, what the grown-ups told us: that, living in Greenham, just a mile away from 96 nuclear warheads (each with the equivalent destructive power of 16 Hiroshima bombs) we’d be safe hiding in a makeshift den of our books and some cardboard boxes under the table. We’d all seen Raymond Brigg’s animation When the Wind Blows. The end of the world as we know it for these students (and us) is not so easily stopped, even though we know how. The clock hands have moved another minute closer.

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United Nations state we have 12 years to prevent climate change catastrophe with irreversible elements. There is no historic precedent for the predicted devastation. Another global scientific review warns that if we continue to act as we are, almost all insects will be extinct in just a few decades and life as we know it will be unviable.

I’m privileged to work with some incredible young people who care very much about their studies, their environment and their future. With overwhelming scientific evidence, they don’t believe they’ve got one. I know several of the students who protested and am very proud of them. It will have been a big decision for them to do this. They do their homework. They don’t miss school. They are hard-working, inventive, humble, self-deprecating and very funny. At times they demonstrate kindnesses that would shame most adults.

My youngest (11) wants to be an entomologist. She probably knows more about insects and the basis of life on earth, than the average adult. Their extinction keeps her awake some nights. My middle child (14) wants to be a marine biologist or an environmental artist. She’ll be speaking in her upcoming GCSE exam about plastic in the sea and what we can do about it. My oldest (17) wants to work in the music industry. He listens to contemporary punk bands who write songs about women’s rights, men’s mental health, the NHS – and the environment. He writes them too.

Unlike us, they have everything to lose.

Our only planet is burning and all we’re doing is fiddling. The kids are not just alright. They are right.

Nature Notes

Brown hares, snow hares.

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I never meant to go out that far, that high or for that long. At least, not before getting some chores done. But, when it stopped snowing after more than 24 hours, the world was so transformed, so breathtaking in its beauty, I was utterly taken; spellbound.
The light coming through the end of the holloway flung long blue shadows from the trees like a throw line towards me. Christmas-carded with snow and so heavily weighted, the branches form a tunnel low enough to have to crawl through in places.

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The open down is a glittering moonscape. The tussocky meadow anthills smoothed into unearthly, rounded humps.

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I climb up alone, beyond the place the snowplough stopped on the road below me, creating a white wall higher than my head. The snow that had been at my welly tops, was now well above my knees.

All the way, I have the company of hares, or at least, the impression of them. I track the lines of their crisp prints in the snow, measuring two, then three of my strides to one animal, as it increased speed. Criss-crossing, racing, up and down the ramparts of the hill fort, mostly on top of the snow, sinking three or four centimetres in, they too cast their own blue shadows.

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In a wedgewood-blue sky, the sun dazzles off the wide snowfield and a frost layer of ice crystals that sparkle on top. I am enthralled, enchanted; bewitched by the blueness of the snow, the polar silence, the arctic curves and folds. The panoramic aloneness of it.

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A succession of 4x4s try the adventure of the road below. They hit the snowplough wall and are stuck. Another from the opposite direction seeks the road, finds only fence post tops; the drift, skimmed smooth and innocent over the top as if with a palette knife, would swallow a Land Rover whole.

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At the top of the hill are more cookie-cutter hare prints. I can clearly see how far the hindfeet overreach the forefeet, crossed like the legs of an animated director’s chair, between great gaps of suspension above the earth. It makes me smile.

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The Wayfarer’s track is heavy going. I sink to my hips in great, cold duvet folds of snow that fill up my wellies. I have to surge and swim my way out, grateful that no one can see me. The dogs are struggling; summiting the drifts, then sinking up to their necks. I should head home. But I want to take it all in. I want to see all my beloved, familiar places transformed like this. I don’t think I can ever go home again.

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And then, 974ft up, at the height of the hill, 26ft short of a mountain, three hares dash up from the ground in a cloud of powdered snow and sprint a figure of eight ahead. Bright, chestnut forms, burning against the snow like sleek racehorses. Brown hares. Almost-mountain hares.

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Nature Notes

Hedgebottom Foxes.

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A blank-window pallor gleams through the bottom of the bare hawthorn hedge on the hill above. Where protective tree tubes have been, the hedge bottom is open and spaced evenly by slender trunks, giving it a cloistered appearance. It is an unusual vantage point for me: a steamy kitchen on a Saturday-job afternoon. The scribbled thorns above arched panes of castellated winter sky, make it look like a flat trompe l’oeil painting. A hare sits silhouetted under one of the arches, cleaning its long ears; a pre-Raphaelite figure combing her hair at the window. It stretches its back like a cat; a Mariana in the moated grange, framed by a pillared casement that Tennyson, Millais or even Shakespeare might recognise. I stop toying with a loose curl around my finger, stretch the ache out of my own back, put down my binoculars and snap out of a reverie.

At home, the sky seems brighter through the wood’s lattice of leaded lights and a change-up of bird song. The mistle thrush astounds us by turning up the volume, calling the whole wood out with his special brand of dogged, melancholy optimism. At noon, an owl calls three times from the wood.

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I walk the dogs later, hoping to reach the big beech hangar on the down before sunset. I don’t, so I stand and watch the gold soak into it, like syrup into burnt toast. The hanging wood looks like a great creature on castors, drawn back and poised at the point where gravity is about to let it go, screaming downhill. It looks full of rollercoaster tension; all the frisson of crepuscular, vespertine activity hidden inside.

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Neither dog spots the fox. A broad stroke of sunset gilding its back, it moves through the blurry myopic squint of earth haze and night air and melts into the maize without a rustle.

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I drop down into the familiar sunken lane with a primal thump of fear and doubt. The lane could be black water for all I can see. It isn’t of course. But something, not a dog, trots past panting lightly.

There are small disturbances in the hedgebottom at head height, the tiniest flurries of flicked leaves every few strides. Voles and mice darting away, trembling at owl cries. At eye level, a shadow doubles back and runs past in a zoetrope of flickering motion. I seem to have become tangled in a thread of foxes.

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Wavy-limbed oaks are wrapped in jumpers of ivy, their sleeves unravelling around a fuzzy, diffuse moon. At midnight, returning from a friend’s house, a woodpigeon calls from the wood. The moon is in the village pond, alerting me to the still, black water and the sharp smell of snow.