A Midsummer Night’s Trespass.
Midsummer. And after a day of heavy showers, all is glistening. The long grass is a heathered haze of flowering Yorkshire fog. My boots and jeans are already soaked through and the grass pollen has made lichen-green smears across my knees. There is a certain euphoria felt, running out into a Midsummer evening. There are flattened places in the grass where the deer have lain. And pyramidal orchids. The football is on. No one is here. I risk a careful trespass.
I climb the down. Each fence post is streaked and splashed white from hunting raptors and owls. From deep within the pinewood, overlaid with wild clematis vines thick as my wrist, comes the low, sustained and not-often-heard warble of a male tawny owl. This throaty ‘ocarina’ call is uttered by both sexes through a closed beak and can signify anxiety or contentment, or something about food gifts being proffered or a greeting.
On the opposite down, the sense of something there: snagged threads in the fabric of the grass. I lift my binoculars. 14 fallow deer, in all colours. Indistinct at such distance, they are like pieces of a puzzle shifting about, resettling and disappearing into the warp and weft.
The wail of a stone curlew from the valley stops me in my tracks.
Imagine. Imagine if I could just drop down and find it!
Instead, I duck into the dark underwatery wood and am brought up sharp by rustling. A badger trots out, head low, stripes in bright relief and less than two big strides away. Another follows, then another, all three animals oblivious to my presence. They jog along like a rippling, silvery mustelid train and, just as I am about to move on, another bolts out to catch them up.
The wood and down are starry with elderflower, heady with its scent. The big white plates float like disembodied lights. Like the ox-eye daisies they seem to pull the luminosity of the chalk up through their roots and out, emanating a pale glow. I pluck a spray, wield it like a torch.
It grows late. A full amber moon is rising above the hedge on this most magical of nights; a once in a lifetime, midsummer-moon the strawberry pickers would have appreciated. Out on the emerging maize, a jill hare and her leveret cavort, and a roebuck pronks away through the oats, barking a warning.
The lights from home come into view. The little owls are hunting across the moon. And, right on my periphery, the barn owl goes like a beam of light across the sky. All manner of magic is abroad. I want to stay. Remain here, lie down in the grass and sleep.
It is 11.30 by the time I get home, unmissed, damp and flushed with night.