Nature Notes

Presentiment of a Red Sun. Part I.

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The wood is under a sepia spell. Everything tinged, foxed and coloured like an old map of itself. Mid-October, yet warm enough for July. The late harvest moon was spectacular when it rose, coloured like a honeysuckle bloom off the horizon. The atmosphere in the wood is strange. Misty, steamy even. It is as if the brown dust of fungal spores, puffed from the pout of an earthstar, has permeated the air and tinted the light.

The deer paths are a narrow, thick impasto of cloven hoofprints: pairs of empty brackets in a sentence. In places, the ground has been pawed and churned into perfect beds for jays to place acorns in – and lose them. Between the stalls created by the branches of a fallen oak, there are flattened patches where the fallow deer have lain heavily, as if tethered in a row for milking. Here, the smell of ammonia is strong enough to prick the eyes, and mingles with fox musk and fungal spores.

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Above me on the steep slope and without warning (though I should have been more vigilant) a tree lurches up from the earth in rocking horse motion; branched, stag-headed like an old oak, holding its crown of thorny antlers high as a raised candelabra, wide apart enough to hold a piece of sky. The branches are festooned with pricked leaves and draped with grasses dried into pale tresses of hay. Pushing this impressive headdress skywards, the body of the animal rises, thick as the brown trunk of a tree, and pounds away powerfully on strong, sapling legs. The spirit of Herne the Hunter is alive and well. A fallow doe follows, coming up like a bolt from the earth, too; sun-dappled, though it is overcast and ochre-coloured, her mouth downturned, part-open, her great leaf ears swivelling, gathering all the prey-sound behind her.

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I slip on rolling acorns, but even then take care not to grab elder (it won’t hold) impale my hand on hawthorn or worse, risk a septic wound from blackthorn. A squirrel intent on insulating its drey berates my clumsiness, wheezing like a wet squeaky toy and punctuating its irritation with flicks of its question mark tail.

Feeding the horses at sunset, the sky appears aurora cold, blue and lemon. Yet it was hot when working. From the north, the sound, then sight of 13 redwings arriving over the barn roof. I turn, catching the wheelbarrow handle in my skirt pocket and send the lot, hay, apples and pasture mix spilling into my wellies and onto the yard.

Later, the faint, chalked star-belt of the milky-way looks like an animal track. I can still hear redwings coming in. A friend texts to say he heard the first fallow buck bellowing in the big wood hangar.

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A Writing Workshop, coming soon!

I’ll be exploring the sensory mnemonic and meaning of autumn in a Wild Writing Workshop for adults at the Nature Discovery Centre, Thatcham, for BBOWT. Saturday 11th November, 10am-4pm. More: bbowt.org.uk/events All welcome!

10 thoughts on “Nature Notes

  1. Such beautiful descriptions – especially of the stag emerging in front of you! There are so many lovely lines, it’s difficult to choose my favourites, but I particularly liked “…cloven hoofprints: pairs of empty brackets in a sentence” and “faint, chalked star-belt” and this whole section: “a tree lurches up from the earth in rocking horse motion…”. Just wonderful.

  2. Love your imagery, particularly the sepia wood and the stag’s antlers being wide enough apart to hold the sky – beautiful! You’ve captured the odd feeling of that red sun day so well.

  3. My own view echoes that first comment. The descriptions are so rich and evocative. Those phrases about the hoof prints and the ‘star-belt’ are particularly memorable, but it’s hard to choose as the whole piece is bursting with descriptive power. If your columns were ever to be collected in a book I’d be one of the first to buy it. Brilliant.
    Genny

  4. Love your writing, Nicola! Thanks for sharing such beautiful thoughts and moments. Truly inspiring! I particularly like the sepia woods and the antlers holding a piece of the sky – great writing.

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