Old Spring Wood seemed quiet, still and empty of all life but the trees and me walking under them in peace. No bird song or greetings from people or dogs, just the trees and me walking under them at ease. When suddenly, like electricity vibrating in the air I’m surrounded by loud thrumming all around, everywhere. The source? Invisible though I look in every direction. The result? An incomparably unnerving sensation. If I didn’t know better I’d suspect some kind of haunting, but the reality is actually almost as daunting. There must be thousands of them above me, wasps or bees, hidden swarms gathering en masse in the canopy of trees. I speed up my pace, feeling considerably on edge till I’m out through the gate and past the boundary hedge. Pleased to be back on to safer, silent ground, I walk on in relief, trying to process what I found. But the next time I return to brave Old Spring Wood, all is calm and tranquil, sounding vacant as it should.
Four cabbage white babies crawl in a line, eating the mattress on which they also lie, while another in its adult shape flutters near to me and I hope to myself that they don’t completely eat the lily pads and flowers I was counting on for lunch, after all, they’re not the only ones who like to munch on peppery salad leaves and bright orange blooms, so I hope they move on from my nasturtiums soon!
Caught, held, arrested in flight, a wispy thistle angel breezily alights. Guardian wings cradle round, protecting tiny, precious seed, vow to carry it far on the wind, to serve its growing need. I place it on the table by the open door, it flies away to freedom, just as before.
The leaves are still green but the signs are everywhere, from the crisping air of morning to countless seeds in the dog’s hair! Summer’s handing over, ticking off her final tasks, while Autumn is impatient to begin making his mark. The lights will change soon to sheen the world amber red, the gorgeous green of summer retiring to her bed. But the wheel keeps turning and what is lost will be found as the seasons shift and shimmer and the last comes back around.
Wings too wet and heavy to flit away, a peacock butterfly spends half the day sunbathing its splendour on the garage wall until it’s confident it will flutter, not fall. Then with a flourish it rises high dry enough to fly enough to reach the sky. I miss it gently fanning its beautiful wings but receive a new gift when the song thrush sings.
The news is in, the heather’s out so we drive to the tops to see the fresh made purple hill-waves of the deep, wide moorland sea. Vast expanses painted in flower stretch blooms to the edge of sight, entrancing even those familiar with this annual summer delight. I try to hold it in memory, dales dyed their best for the country shows, but can’t recapture top of the world splendour once I’m back in the valley below. I wish it would last forever but then it wouldn’t be the same, I couldn’t chase its beauty in a yearly fleeting game. So I’ll just cherish this moment, breathe deep the brief lilac haze, and console myself when it goes over, it will return again to re-amaze.
I’m sure, like me, you’ve had those days when you wish you could be, someone or something else different from yourself entirely: to fly and soar on the wind as a bird free and high, to be your carefree dog as he sleeps by the fireside. But I must confess to feeling more than a little surprised by the metamorphosis-seeking Cabbage White that I spied clinging with wings closed green to a tall vegetable stem, as if what it perceived to be the envy of all men was becoming a corn on the cob! For twenty four hours it paused there quite still, but all the wishing in the world could not fulfil its desire to experience another’s life for a day, so it gave up, ascended, and fluttered away.
It must be hard to be a mint’s flower, constantly overlooked when its leaves are eagerly sought out and celebrated in recipe books. For centuries the herb’s been picked to soothe, freshen and flavour, while its blossom has remained passed over and out of favour. It’s hard when no one appreciates just how prettily you bloom, even if they’re always thankful for their infinite uses for you! So when you sauce your lamb, brush your teeth or drink mint tea, remember the beautiful petals that ensured there was more seed.
After the rain, the ground is soaked with rose confetti and fallen fuchsia bells. Heavy rudbeckia heads half collapse themselves down like folded umbrellas, still dripping wet. And the garden smells of spice as moisture polishes the curry leaves to sing their flavour through the air so deliciously you can almost taste it, after the rain.
I saw the strangest bush when walking along the track, its blooms looking for all the world like an opened pack of those retro snowball biscuits that came in pink and white, transporting me back to Eighties childhood treat delights. I ask myself what other deja vu flowers I might find? – midget gems and party rings dancing through my mind…
The evenings are chillier now, dusk creeping into night in front of us long before it’s time for bed, so we retreat to the sofa to watch whodunnits on the TV rather than sitting outside instead. I am gripped by the murder plot but just as hooked on a second screen – the window to outside’s darkening activity where, drawn to the light of flickering flames from our candles, two darting bats weave their own mystery. The house in the film is turreted and there is an unusual blending of worlds, as if the garden here is becoming there, and the night winged creatures painting black on midnight blue so close to us might actually be an imagined, storied pair.
This is the first year I’ve looked around carefully enough to see, after honeysuckle finishes flowering come bursts of bright rubies. Fragrance fades, petals fall, but shining in their stead, clusters of radiant berries adorn it with new found brilliant red. It’s a simple, obvious picture, but no less hopeful, profound and true, when what you’re known for fades, unexpected fruit still comes from you. So trust in the turning season, trust even as blooms spoil and spill, without the loss of what is, tomorrow’s promise cannot be fulfilled.
Down in the garden, in the raised veg beds, some unexpected blooms are raising their heads. A florist would look blank if you asked for them there – in fact that would be quite a fun little dare! But trust me, they’re beautiful despite their progeny, these new Charlotte blossoms, shining fine for me. Paper white petals with a yellow trumpet heart, perhaps it’s time potato flowers got to play their part in the bouquets we choose, arrange and display, why disqualify them because of their humble name?!
Every evening when the light begins to dim, the sun is dipping and the blackbird sings, one after another, a troop of sleepy blue tits come, filing themselves under the fascia board, one by one. How they slot in such a tiny space I never will know, but I love to sit and watch them as they go to rest their weary feathers, already lost in reverie while the blackbird sings lullabies from the sycamore tree.
Mesmerised, in a Monday morning trance at the whizzing, spinning butterflies’ dance. Courting conducted at a dizzying speed, gyroscoping with fluttering ease, tumbling, rolling over and over, high above, now down near the clover, a two spoked Catherine wheel sparkling bright, flickering, shimmering gymnasts of light. I must walk on and begin my day but I take to heart their sense of play.
Daisies, daisies, give me your answer do, why can’t I ever walk past without stopping to smile at you? I think it’s those summer lunchtimes sat out on the long school grass, picking petals to predict romance, so happy not to be in class. Stringing your stems in garlands round ankles, wrists and necks, of course that’s why, years later, I never can forget the feel of cheer and charm as you scatter your smiles at me, even when I’m walking at speed and seemingly far too busy to stop and sit and play again at lovelorn games and daisy chains.
The wrens in my garden are tiny hula girls who hop into the Fuchsia and set it all a whirl with quivering and jiggling as they hunt among its leaves, unaware of their performance as they retrieve bugs for their breakfast, for lunch and for tea, an accidental dinner show at nine, twelve and three!
Landscape, habitat, historic local fauna and flora are all interrupted by escapee garden explorers. It’s important to strive for balanced biodiversity but I can’t help the childish rush of delight when I see a burst of exotic dragon heads painting the hedgerow red when really there should only be brambles there instead. Against the grey of dry stone wall and the constant green of field, fell and all there is something gleeful that always transpires when I see such vivid blooms of crimson fire – be it legitimate joy or half guilty pleasure – I still believe I’m finding wayside treasure.
This song’s for the sparrows, perennially underestimated jewels who dart and dive and flap and squawk, under incomprehensible mob rules. Daredevil kamikazes almost brushing the hairs on your head, little gutter acrobats drinking up rain and scavenging for bread. Disruptors of ordered vegetable beds, with a taste for bathing in soil, who use the potting shed’s asphalt roof to exfoliate tummy and tail. Shakers of Viburnum branches, huge gatherings full of clamour, making up with plenty of drama for all they lack in glamour. Balancing on bamboo pole ends, on top of the bean teepee, extreme perchers excelling at what looks impossible to me. Why are they so dismissed, barely given a second look, when their characterful shenanigans deserve a story book? Perhaps it’s time to make them heroes of a famous tale or two, or at the least to underline they’re well worth bird watching too.
I will sit at the foot of the old ash tree and open my heart to the sound of the Song Thrush weaving its melody – sweet, lilting and loud. Each year that passes, I will hope to hear how it lengthens its narrative of notes, telling new tales of winter survived, stretching cadences like long summer days. Perhaps I too will learn his craft, building my stories year by year. Perhaps I too will find fresh notes for others to sit and hear.
When you lay out your welcome mat and fling your back door wide, be careful because you might not know quite who you’re inviting inside! Some guests will hop into the kitchen, confused about where to feed fledglings, others will fly all through the house on wildly misdirected wings. Then a cricket might just sit boldly on your actual welcome mat, leaving you protesting, “I didn’t mean quite that!”.
When summer’s in its swan song and August’s long begun, a strange melancholy can beckon with the end of holiday fun. That’s when you need reminding Autumn brings her own bliss, look to the hedgerows dear one, there’s something you shouldn’t miss. Search for the delicate white, find the first black beads to bite, savour the sweet tanged delight, let flavour win your internal fight. Believe the promise of more that’s coming, welcome the herald of colour and fruit, soon trees, not just brambles, will be laden with delicious new beauty to salute.
I was just so glad when the first gladioli grew their stems full straight and high and broadcast their blooms in beautiful hues making perfect the present-bulbs I gave to you.
And it makes me so glad that this wonder is real, you bury a knobbly gift and trust its promise fulfils. Weeks and months pass, then when you’ve half forgotten colour unfolds fountains and shines surprise gems.
I always imagined our view unlooked at when we sleep. When we’re not on the terrace and the doors are all locked, while the creeping dark slowly covers the garden in moonlight quiet and makes everything still. Paused. Waiting to be reawakened by opening curtains and doors and human activity restored.
But I was wrong.
Our view is looked at when we sleep by those that scuttle and creep and keep the night watch.
One such creature is covered in spines and has been spied now as he climbs, hauling himself slowly up the steps with splayed flat feet and tiny short legs to snuffle for grubs and evening snacks, to enjoy gazing out before turning on his tracks. Now he descends again, a slinky on the stairs, trotting back happily to his own bed, cosied in under the potting shed.
No, our view is not unlooked at when we sleep, no doubt many more have managed to keep their secret, shadowed prowling unseen while we look away, lost in our dreams – missing seeing, not just the view, but the night watch team and all they do.
Sitting out late, enjoying the light and the delicate breeze of approaching night. The fire pit blazes and up in the skies a feathery cloud blanket lies. All feels protected, charmed – at peace, we listen and look, resting in ease. Then there among the blue and gold, the evening shivers in more cold, and sure enough the blanket shifts into tiny cloud-seeds that start to drift, like a dandelion clock blowing on the wind with time to waste and tales to spin. And all of this beauty whispers to me, “time for bed dear heart, time to sleep”.
Suddenly they’re everywhere with rocket lollipops bright, colour and fragrance luring intoxicated insects to delight. The bush at the end of the lawn teems with hustle and bustle, butterflies, bees and stranged-wingees all competing for who has the muscle to down the very best nectar and pollen before closing time comes and bloom ends, and spears bend, and flowers spend their last drops of the good stuff all out and down to the ground. Even today in the pouring rain, Buddleia’s open to visitors again. A bumble bee looking for cover hangs on upside-down and under; yesterday’s lollipop fast becoming umbrella – the perfect shelter from inclement weather. So if you want to draw a crowd and do not mind your buzzing loud, do the tiny world a favour, plant a stash of their favourite flavour.
I open my curtains at six fifty nine to sixteen jackdaws on the telegraph line. A group stake out, every eye focused down on me, staring and cawing intermittently. Corvid surveillance causes me some unease so I run downstairs to make the morning teas!
Don’t just stop to smell the roses, stop to smell it all: fresh mown grass, new cut hay, the tumbling scents of honeysuckle and jasmine stars. Stop to see as well. Pause your walk to watch a wagtail’s bobbing dance, to laugh at sheepish grins, applaud a strutting stoat and gasp at kestrel dives. Stop to touch the lupin’s furry seed pods, feel for yourself a cleaver’s stick, and welcome tall bracken tickling your face. Stroke the horses when their heads rise and peer over the wall, stay, talk awhile softly to each and every creature you meet, enjoying their wordless replies. Yes, absolutely stop, park your car in the lane, get out and cherish the chance to remain longer and linger at the sight of a rare brown hare running or sitting beyond the field’s barred gate, or as a moorland sweeping barn owl lands on his own pausing post and locks his piercing eyes with yours. Stop to listen too, to hear every birds’ song, from the sparrow’s chatter to the blackbird’s virtuosity and the curlew’s haunting call. Then look up again and truly notice each and every jewel like bird that graces a tree or visits the garden. And if you hear the kingfisher call on the winding river path, just wait, always wait, for you might just glimpse a flash of brilliant flight. Don’t just stop to smell the roses, take time to breathe and be in the woodland, the water and the wide open spaces long enough to receive the wild, unpredictable gifts of God that grow and roam and are – here for you to find.
They’re back again and I know it’s more customary to sing and serenade their colours and revelry, but haven’t you noticed they’re absolutely in gangs, mobs of seed spitting, bird feeder disrupting young lads. I love them, I do, they deserve descriptive emotion but before I can get there I’m laughing at the commotion. Finch faces, finch faces what are you so busy conniving? Golden but mischievous – darling bright scoundrels thriving.
The river path is lush now, growing high verdant green, and every several steps fireworks explode between. Caught mid detonation, flower-sparks shine, a dazzling scattering of stars frozen still in time. Strange to explain what I hardly believe, these breath-taking bursts are simply called ‘hogweed’.
What else should I serenade on Yorkshire’s day besides the bright rose, the white rose that represents her name? But so many more beauties come to the fore, the rivers, the dry-stone walls, the blustrous, broad-placed moor. Ten years I have lived here now, under her spell, and I still can’t find sufficient words to halfway tell how I love her with her heather, and her ever-changing skies, how she’s home and half-heaven in my awe struck eyes. I will walk out my devotion on her coast and up her hills, each step a caress as I explore and fulfil my promise to both of us to grow to know her well, woodland and wildlife, beck, field and fell.