A blank-window pallor gleams through the bottom of the bare hawthorn hedge on the hill above. Where protective tree tubes have been, the hedge bottom is open and spaced evenly by slender trunks, giving it a cloistered appearance. It is an unusual vantage point for me: a steamy kitchen on a Saturday-job afternoon. The scribbled thorns above arched panes of castellated winter sky, make it look like a flat trompe l’oeil painting. A hare sits silhouetted under one of the arches, cleaning its long ears; a pre-Raphaelite figure combing her hair at the window. It stretches its back like a cat; a Mariana in the moated grange, framed by a pillared casement that Tennyson, Millais or even Shakespeare might recognise. I stop toying with a loose curl around my finger, stretch the ache out of my own back, put down my binoculars and snap out of a reverie.
At home, the sky seems brighter through the wood’s lattice of leaded lights and a change-up of bird song. The mistle thrush astounds us by turning up the volume, calling the whole wood out with his special brand of dogged, melancholy optimism. At noon, an owl calls three times from the wood.
I walk the dogs later, hoping to reach the big beech hangar on the down before sunset. I don’t, so I stand and watch the gold soak into it, like syrup into burnt toast. The hanging wood looks like a great creature on castors, drawn back and poised at the point where gravity is about to let it go, screaming downhill. It looks full of rollercoaster tension; all the frisson of crepuscular, vespertine activity hidden inside.
Neither dog spots the fox. A broad stroke of sunset gilding its back, it moves through the blurry myopic squint of earth haze and night air and melts into the maize without a rustle.
I drop down into the familiar sunken lane with a primal thump of fear and doubt. The lane could be black water for all I can see. It isn’t of course. But something, not a dog, trots past panting lightly.
There are small disturbances in the hedgebottom at head height, the tiniest flurries of flicked leaves every few strides. Voles and mice darting away, trembling at owl cries. At eye level, a shadow doubles back and runs past in a zoetrope of flickering motion. I seem to have become tangled in a thread of foxes.
Wavy-limbed oaks are wrapped in jumpers of ivy, their sleeves unravelling around a fuzzy, diffuse moon. At midnight, returning from a friend’s house, a woodpigeon calls from the wood. The moon is in the village pond, alerting me to the still, black water and the sharp smell of snow.