Nature Notes

Harvest Home.

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The last-but-one field on the Estate has been harvested. The straw lies in great wide windrows like yellow plaits across the stubble; all the gold of summer days laid out in thick, shining tresses.

I get to ride up in the combine through the last of the oats, the lights and the sunset illuminating the dust cloud like a fire. The header and reel row the crop under my feet into blades that threaten to clitter the tops of the big flints and spark them.

Past the dewpoint, I go out the garden gate, intent on gleaning an armful of straw for the hens, but instead, keep going. The evening is full of owls, the encroaching night, feather edged. Bats clicker past and a covey of partridge take off with a whirr.

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In the ink black of the wood, unseen and very close, a deer ‘pronks’ away from me, its four hooves hitting the ground at the same time with some force: a big, heavy fallow buck.
The owls call all around as I walk through several held and contested territories. There is quite a conversation, from the kewicks, shrieks and wails to the drawn out, wavering toowhoos: I also hear the low, ‘ocarina’ warble from the throats of one or two. The night is an amphitheatre. The phone in my pocket buzzes. I read and return the text and in doing so, ruin an hour’s worth of accumulated night vision.

The following evening, the forecast storm focuses our attention. We gather our straw as the rhythmic thump of the baler in the next field provides a countdown. It leaves the field minutes before the first spectacular whipcrack of lightning. We stand in the field watching the lightshow for as long as we dare. Owls call, thinking it is night. The horses bolt for their field shelter and the lights blink off in the house. The hiss and sizzle of rain across the shorn field fills the upright straws, so that, in the morning, water flicks up my calves and runs down the inside of my boots.

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Then, the world smells different. There is the first lemon-and-hay scent of ivy flowers, the smell of ploughed earth and the almondy-scent of old man’s beard, its flowers like sea anemones. The last swallows make heart-and-dart shapes against a lumpy, porridgy sky.
Cobnuts soft as milk teeth, white as a peeled hazel stick begin to colour. Ravens, rooks and jackdaws fly like black ash above the last field in Berkshire to burn, when they used to fire the stubble. For now, the curved brow of the hill remains yellow as a choirboys head. Summer slips inexorably through our fingers like handfuls of silky oats. Still gold.

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