Nature Notes

Harvest Home.

At last, harvest is in. Returning home, I swing the car slowly into our field entrance of aIMG_2053
car park and come up against the header of the combine, powering down with the roar of bees. The field looks as if it’s been wiped out by a desert sandstorm, the air filled with the thick, milky gold-dust of a sodden summer.

We let a respectable amount of time pass after Jeremy Stokes and Will Carter leave the field with their machinery for the evening – and then the fun begins. The dust has settled and the stubble is bathed in the light of a low evening sun. First, we are out on the edges of the long golden windrows, furtively filling a couple of sacks with armfuls of straw for the chickens and wheelbarrowing a load into the horses’ shelter. A neighbour across the field is doing the same – a sort of modern gleaning for us Estate cottagers. It is a small, insignificant amount, but it feels naughty, all the same. Buzzards and kites bank the field ends, before returning to glide down the runways between the thick IMG_2065rows for any prey breaking cover. They are like stacking planes at Heathrow.

And then we run, leaping the heaped, orderly rows in a steeplechase, the dog flying ahead of us. I have done this for almost every year of my life – and so have our children. It’s a sort of personal harvest celebration. We return to pat any incursions back into shape and, breathlessly laughing, leave the field to the owls, who are already calling.

The following evening the straw is baled and lifted high onto three carts. By dusk, the shadows around the field breed tawny owls. I try to spot them with my big torch – one flies over, calling with the hoarse, unpracticed vocal chords of a juvenile. As I approach the furthest of the loaded trailers, I can see owls on no less than three of the corners. They are making the most of thisIMG_2070 temporary hunting post over freshly shorn ground, listening hard for the squeaks, squabbles, rustles and reorganisations of small, suddenly exposed animals. In the sweep of my lamp, I glimpse a returning stare from a white rimmed face and wings like foxed books. With their rounded heads, the owls look like bedknobs on a bed big enough to conceal a dried pea to test a princess.

Leaning out the bedroom window in the morning, I hear the querulous call of the little IMG_2068owl and manage just to see it pitch, like a lobbed tennis ball, from the height of the trailered stack. By the afternoon, the bales are tractored off and although the field is cropped, it is, for the moment, still coloured summer. All too soon, the plough will go in, turning the backdrop winter. We wait for the season to change. Sunny days are a welcome surprise now, rather than something (a month ago) we felt entitled to. The light is more nuanced, the days quieter, fresh, calming; with the salt tang of the sea in them, somehow.

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