Owls & Flowers.
These last five weeks, I have been seeking solace in the countryside around me. The golden light & air of September so soft, I could wrap it around myself. The rain of October falling relentlessly, like some sort of empathy. Noticing small things and wild things has been a great comfort: a starry, Milky Way scattering of autumn cyclamen under a hedge, a polecat vanishing into a log pile, like a sable stole snatched back from a toppled coat stand, or a rhythmic ‘clopping poem’ made up, riding down the lanes between the hedgerow riches: hips and haws, cobs and sloes, hops and guelder, elder, pear. I was singing it softly to myself a quarter mile later, the horse’s radar ears swivelling to listen.
Walking the same route days later, up the Bunjum Lane towards Prosperous, there is some puzzling chalk pit graffiti; an old name scrawled on a new fence in an old, old place. Above a storm drain, dug into an old rubbish dump of Shippam’s paste bottles, tin teapots & old earthenware, is the name ‘Oliver Cromwell.’ I wonder if old allegiances die hard out here, just an afternoon’s walk from Civil War battle site of 1643, in this time of political turmoil. Along the ‘pobbel drom’, crab apples bead and perfume the tarmac with a rich seam of golden green. Nuts and berries crack underfoot and, where they have been milled by tyres, hooves and feet, make a pale green flour.
Another day, I go up the hill and disappear in cloud to blot out the world below. A buzzard, its feathers beaded with cloud-mist on the fencepost watching with me from this precipitous place, and a hare on the road, do not move. I walk for a whole day on the big hill, and sit for hours hugging my knees and my dog, with views out to almost all the houses I’ve ever lived in.
Pale, bleached grasses, pewter skies, leaves thin as watery light. This is a spent and exhausted countryside, beginning to put itself to bed, to rest. I take strength from the thin turf & light, gleaning kernels, letting husks blow away. It’s an early attempt at a cure for grief. On this autumn equinox, I try to balance the light & the dark as the last swallows filter through, tilting at kites & ravens & the stillness of hares in their forms.
Within the ramparts of the hill fort, what looks at first to be a giant ant pupae comes into focus. A white grub, the size of a mixing bowl, appears to nestle under an excavated anthill. On closer inspection, this is a cross-section of co-habitation. A badger has clawed at the anthill and pulled it apart to get at a subterranean wasp nest built at the heart of this ant citadel. The white ‘grub’ is half of the paper urn home; the comb has been spilled and the grubs scattered by the badger’s bear claws and licked up, the remains of the paper house crumpling and disintegrating in light rain. It is wonderfully and fascinatingly distracting.
Then a crow calls with a surprisingly strong West Berkshire accent: byre! fyre! Instead of oi, boy! and brings me back into focus. A raven, over the watery farm & watercolour hills calls like a stone gone down a well. Farmer Carter, then Farmer Stokes stop on the road to say ‘we heard along the grapevine & are sorry.’ I thank them. But I think the corvids told. There are no grapevines out here. Only bedwine. Bedwine, woodbine, traveller’s joy, wild clematis, it has so many names, smoking through the hedges like a remnant, gone out wildfire.
Back home, an owl calls outside the house in daytime, as it has outside Mum and Dad’s house everyday for the last 4 weeks. I know what it is supposed to mean and we don’t need telling. It would’ve happened if I’d listened or not. I am reminded by a Kate Bush lyric ‘Your name is being called by sacred things that are not addressed nor listened too. Sometimes they blow trumpets.’ I still love hearing the owls at night. I bear them no grudge. It is a sound that soothes. Both our houses are filled with flowers now. Owls and flowers. How it’s always been.
Outside the window, there are walls of gold. Castellated fortresses of straw bales, bigger than our house, to soften floors & stop up the bitter drafts under stable doors & between barn walls, when a gold-threaded memory of warm summer is most needed.