A day for listening to the sound of a wood. Stillness brings the zip. zip , buzz of hoverflies. Small wisps of wind fold, flow, fleckle through late summer grass, a rusty shimmer. A young deer snaps twigs pushing through the undergrowth, ears swish flies, nostrils smell me. Horses snort. Small birds stitch together the tops of the trees with their nimble song. My phone pings, knees crack.
There’s a confident wind from the west this morning, up at Badgers Wood. It stirs the sycamore and beech trees, their heavy limbs set swaying, with a moaning as their branches bend into each other. Above the hubbub, the pair of buzzards with their wings full of air circle, swoop, rise and bank, while all the while the true acrobats of the sky, the swifts, squeal and race between them. Fleshy, pink gilled field mushrooms speckle the track where a wall brown butterfly alights. These beautiful insects have plummeted in numbers, the evidence suggesting that climate change is to blame as the rise in temperature is causing generations to hatch out too late in the year to survive. They have decreased by as much as 86% since 1976. That was the year of the drought when the UK saw a Drought Act passed in Parliament. I remember the water rationing and the tarmacadam lifting off the roads. Everyone thought it was a freak year, and we would not see another like it in our lifetime.
I am brought back to the present by two wrens in a whirring chatter flitting among the bushes. Their latin name is ‘troglodytes troglodytes’ – more apt for the badger than the wren, whose newly dug sett I find a little further on. Perhaps if the rain holds off I will return later and wait downwind with a flask of tea in the hope of seeing them, as I did in the summer of 1976 in the back garden of our house that sat half way up the hill.
By the way the latin name for the buzzard is ‘Buteo Buteo’ and the swift is known as ‘Apus Apus’.
I am sure I say this every year, and every year it catches me unawares, the smell of autumn. So, it is faint I admit but it is the first day I have noticed the slight change of scent in the fields, the invisible line between seasons is being crossed. This slight sump of land where the burn runs through is a favourite walk. The farmer has planted the margins with wild plants, a muddle of thistle and bramble, meadowsweet, campion, dockan and pineapple weed. A yellowhammer’s insistent call reminds me of the description in the Observers book of birds 1972 which says that the yellowhammer’s call is – ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese.’ I like that and say it repeatedly back to the bird on the telegraph wire but it seems unimpressed. Chiff chaff, wren and a couple of goldfinches. I turn north up the track, past an old ash, and a spindly, tall beech tree with a hole right through its centre, offering a view of clear blue sky, a portal. Up at the entrance to the estate two large doocots stand either side of the main gates. I meet a couple of walkers who say they are impressed by my doocots. Caught off balance by the stupid humour lurking in the comment but also by the idea that I might own said doocots I inform them they are not mine but agree on their magnificence. We chat about kingfishers and badgers and carry on our way. Past the tattie farm I spot a small bird’s nest lying on the track. Such a wonderful object, constructed of sheep’s wool, horse hair, moss and baler twine. I carry it home carefully. It has been a lovely morning in a place I know but never know, and simply by being out in the landscape it brings all manner of unexpected experiences.
A long summer sun shimmers across a field of oats. Thistledown floats past large white butterflies, and up above a pair of juvenile buzzards ride the columns of rising air, circling, lifting on thermal winds. Looking over the bridge the sun smoulders holes in the burn, the leaves of the trees reflecting like a filigree of moth eaten cloth. My skin tingles with nettle stings, a reminder later on that I was here. Gorse seeds pop in the heat and all is nodding, all tremulously shaking in the afternoon breeze.