When Am I?!

This morning was properly cold. An autumnal nip, the sort that numbs your fingers and toes and gently invigorates you, knocking any trace of lingering summer sloth from your brain. I actually enjoy this sort of cold, to a point – it’s gentle, like a cold shower on a hot day, and softened by light mist and dew and the still verdant hedgerows. Not breathtakingly sharp, like the winter frosts which see me wearing at least two pairs of everything (including two hats!).

Immediately upon coming back in Hampshire, I’ve tried to redouble my commitment to my adopted ‘patch’, a short stretch of the Harrow Way. My last visit was in late June, so I was eager to see how the slow turn of the seasons had changed things since. The most obvious ‘new’ feature this week is that the annual berry bonanza is underway, but it doesn’t look like a great vintage. Still, both yesterday and today a fair commotion of birds were gorging themselves amongst the low fruit-bearing trees and bushes: the elders, sloes, hawthorns, etc. which flourish on either side of the track.

Blackcaps and blackbirds were out in force in particular when I got to the lowest point of my walk – almost always the most ‘birdy’ area – the former ‘tchacking’ loudly from deep cover, the latter chasing from perch to perch in a flurry of post-breeding season release. Heading further along, I enjoyed a fleeting reunion with the pair of marsh tits which rove up and down the hedgerows here, far from any extensive woodland, and a party of bullfinches, which stayed mostly out of site and only gave up their presence with an occasional soft ‘pew’.

As I reached the cross tracks where my walk usually finishes, I stepped blinking into the morning sun*, which had finally risen high enough to send direct light flooding over the wheat fields, and the web-draped margins that surround them. I raised both of my hands to the sun, partially to block my eyes, partially to see if what is after all a fantastically hot flaming ball of combusting gases might restore some life to my frigid fingers. After remaining in that position for a minute or so, I turned around slowly and looked up at the moon, the sun now gently warming my back. A solemn half-moon hung above the fields, an ash grey, pock-marked other world. Through binoculars its spherical nature is quite clear and it looks teasingly close, close enough to reach out and pluck like some planetary apple. Probably not as tasty, although I am fond of cheese.

Waving my hands about and gazing at the celestial bodies, like quite the hippy, it must have looked as though I was conducting some kind of pagan ritual. I wonder if that’s what the linnets were gossiping about – a small flock resting on the hedge tops chattered ceaselessly as I stood there, watching carefully with their beady, curious eyes. But then Brother sun and Sister moon were my companions on the way, looming at either end of the walk and lighting my way home. As I made my way back up the hill the sun sat perfectly framed by the arc of the hedgerows, and for a few minutes a deep peace came over the footpath.

Then, all at once, man and nature conspired to shatter it. First a buzzard scattered several terrified red-legged partridges out of the fields and onto the path ahead of me, scuttling through the dust on a blur of clockwork limbs. Around them the blackbirds took up the alarm as a Chinook clattered into hearing range, two lively collies came bounding toward me, a train passed on the nearby Waterloo line, and finally, a sizeable white van came struggling down the track. September 6th, 2012 had finally invaded a place which, I like to imagine, reverts at night to a state of agelessness, the present trickling down the track like a river each morning as the sunlight does. Ironically, it appeared the poor van driver’s sat-nav suffered similar temporal confusion, as surveying the advice it gave him I’d guess its maps were last updated in about 1412. I advised the driver to turn back for the relative safety of suburbia and, reluctantly, so did I.

*I know, it’s all gone a bit ‘Circle of Life’ today!


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