The Eyes Have It.
On high ground, the wild wind and furious passing showers are exhilarating. We seem to be walking through a whirlwind that rooks and jackdaws are caught up in, or are purposefully pitching into, rising up through it like black sparks ejected from a chimney. The wind rips through, ravishing trees and sending beech leaves, like toffee pennies, spinning and skirling out over fields, far from their source.
Against a tarmac-coloured sky, white round the edges with hail, buzzards soar through a rainbow. The opposing sun deepens the cloud tint and when the buzzards turn, it glints softly off their exposed wrists and underwings like mother of pearl.
We put our backs to the shelter of a hedge, like horses, for a moment’s respite. The hedge is loaded with the black berries of wild privet (clustered along stems like grapes) and buckthorn, its leaves shaped like a raven’s tail.
Between the year’s dead nettle stems, and an autumn flush of new growth, a brown hare is pressed hard into the ground, barely two steps to my left, so as to be almost invisible. It was her eye that caught mine, but I am just quick enough to avoid eye contact. If I do, she will know I’ve spotted her and bolt. This is harder than it sounds: a hare’s eye is wild and wise, mad and hypnotic; a topaz, drawing your gaze like an unearthed gold coin. Her ears lie along her back, her black whiskers still. She barely seems to breathe. I walk on. When I look back she rises tall on all fours, stretches her back upwards in a catlike pose, draws the powerful engine of her lanky hindlegs underneath her and lopes away.
Around a seed hopper in the keepered wood, pheasants and a muntjac are feeding. The wind whips away all sound and sense of me and I get close enough to see the little buck licking up spilt grain with his long tongue. But then I take one step to far and glance into his periphery. He flicks up his tail like a flag and barrels away like a russet, roly-poly terrier.
Not moments later a roe deer in full, mule-grey winter coat comes careering through the wood directly towards me. There is a brief dance of directional indecision and a skidding of long legs as we lock eyes. I take in her wet black nose, flared nostrils and big, bright doe eyes before bracing for impact, but her fear has the edge over my hesitation, she chooses her path and is gone, leaving me suddenly assailed by the must and stir of sycamore leaves infected with tar spot fungus. That annual, potent perfume that seems to be all things: provoking half-remembered feelings, a certain rawness and a haunting nostalgia, familiar and comforting all the same; the emotional scent of autumn that is felt in the gut. A loss and a longing for home.