Nights in Long Grass.
Nights like these, I find it almost impossible to be a functioning member of the family. All I want to be is out. More often than not, we all go. June nights are intoxicating, romantic, sensual affairs full of birdsong, big moons, moths, long grass and wildflowers that scent the nocturnal air. To immerse yourself in it is such a sensual experience it feels illicit; a guilty pleasure. There are leverets and fawns in the grass, fox and badger cubs to watch and owls hunting to feed their ever growing, increasingly mobile chicks.
After the high winds and heavy rain tested trees in full leaf, everything settles again. Banking the sides of the lanes are torn leaves, whole, leafy branches and small, hard unripe fruits: tiny green conkers, soft, green beechnuts, pliable ashkeys and bird cherries without a flush of red on them.
The white umbels of hogweed follow cow parsley, and twiggy, pithy elderflower comes into its own, offering up great, showy, creamy plates of heady scent to the air, like a juggling waiter. Whitebeam, wayfaring tree and guelder rose are all in blossom, lightening the green, and rambled all over with bramble roses and dog rose briars. The marshmallow-hued, heart-shaped petals are scattered all over the earth. My daughter’s friend asks if there has been a wedding.
Lambs are growing strongly away and more than once, the white, woolly caterpillars of lambstails land in the garden, or at our feet, picked up from the fields by kites, buzzards and corvids – and dropped. Sometimes there are aerial skirmishes – sometimes, they seem dropped deliberately, just so the bird can practice its agility in catching them before they hit the ground.
The fresh evenings of big, backlit cumulous clouds are gold-gilded. After the astonishing heatwave, castellanus clouds predict a possible riot of storms. We walk through fields of moon-daisies, stirring up moths with our feet: lie down for a hare’s eye view of the landscape. Tawny owlets begin calling for food, awake now, and hungry. We seem to push the chicks ahead of us in a wave of calling ‘chisseek, chisseek’ as they part-fly, part scramble unseen through the understorey. A large roebuck pronks out of the wood and rides through the green corn with great leaps and guttural barks.
And as we follow out of the wood a barn owl floats into view, its big, satellite-dish head turning, heart-shaped, to the ground. It stalls like a paper plane hitting a head wind, folds itself up like a white page of origami and dives into the blue-green sea of wheat like a gannet.
Somewhere off, out there on the inhospitable, bare-knuckled flint rubble of the down – where there seems to be no soil at all – comes the haunting, thrilling wail of a stone curlew luring me away from the path home.