The Sense of an Ending.
The dew-filled tubes of stubble straws have their own silly surprises. They can hold a lot of water. This is apparent, when walking across harvested fields in bare legs & a favourite old dress.
I love harvest time. We plan a family walk, high on the Pewsey Downs and by the time we get there, the wind in our hair and a romp in our boots, the dew has dried from the stubble and the piled straw lines. These bare chalk hills, their swoops and arcs, folds and combes are where the first farmers first broke the earth, pre-history.
This is Eric Ravilious country: Edward Thomas, Hardy and white horse country: below us, the measured lines, satellite geometry and castellated walls, towers and monoliths of the bale stacks follow ancient curves and patterns. Here too are long barrows, round barrows, gallops and sarsen stones and a broad view of harvest. Each square half-mile has its own plume of chalk dust, billowing up from the header of a combine, whilst in other fields, bales are being carted and flotillas of gulls and kites follow the plough, already beginning the year again in places.
On the other side of Knap Hill, we pause to check the map by an old, dry dewpond. It formed the hub of a cartwheel of at least 8 footpaths, emanating from it like spokes and two more further on; the names are a litany of drovers tracks: Workway and Wansdyke, White Horse and West Way. It is easy, in this remote spot, to imagine the travellers meeting here in this high, dry place, watering themselves and their livestock and finding shade or shelter under the overhanging trees.
A footpath sign like a gibbet leads us off, over the bare hills. It reminds me of a wild chapter in Adam Thorpe’s classic novel, Ulverton. Skirting West Wood, we attempt to follow the old Wansdyke track and stumble across a patch of unfarmed, ungrazed and uneven thistle ground. The wind soughs through heavily haw-laden thorn trees. A check on the map reveals this to be the remnant foundations of the long abandoned, remote village of Shaw. We pass through full of questions and a quiet reverence for what must have been a hard life up here.
Back home, we celebrate our 20th Wedding Anniversary, remembering our country wedding in a little flint church overlooking Watership Down. There was a pony and trap and dancing in the village hall next door. I wore a dress the colour of harvest & we decorated the hall with swags of ivy & plaits & sheaves of corn. But my Dad isn’t well. And isn’t going to get better. Between us, we manage to break him out of hospital, and bring him home.
The harvest here is done and there is a bale stack the size of our house in Home Field. Little flocks of swallows pass over on migration and house martins twinkle through the air, catching the last light. The howl of a chainsaw in the wood harmonises with that of the keeper’s dog. In the farmyard, there is a sad toad squashed in the dust and an owl calls in the day, everyday. I try and squeeze out my latent harbouring of old rural and Romany superstitions. I know, anyway.
Tarpaulin thrown and lashed over the straw flutters anxiously and there is the sense of an ending. Later and still out, the harvest moon comes up like a bonfire behind the trees, then bellies up, whole, minting and blessing the stubble in old gold.
Here lies my heart, I think. Here, with the chalk hill like a loving arm at my back. Later still, the small white moon is like a seedpod of honesty held to the sky. A lens; a mother of pearl cloud, caught in a tracing-paper eyeglass.