Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Sunday morning, a morning of sunshine after weeks of rain, a morning full of birdsong and warm air and a meadow full of wild flowers.
My friend and I walk 'here', a fascinating place with a rich history as a military hospital, a pioneering psychiatric hospital, and now a nature reserve.
My friend and I have a great deal in common. We like a lot of the same things, although she has something of a penchant for poking her nose into other people's business, a trait I do not share.
She is younger than I am, and blonde, and probably has a more illustrious family tree. Her name is Hannah, and you may have realised by now that she is a Labrador Retriever.
We wander along the paths through the woodlands and over the meadows. She is sometimes just ahead, sometimes just behind, but never far away.
She likes to greet people, but not necessarily their dogs, whom she tolerates politely. She is not very keen on children, and will often take a detour to avoid them. People wearing sun-glasses make her uncomfortable, and I remember my deaf friends telling me how difficult it is to lip read people wearing sun-glasses. Dogs need to read whole facial expression, too.
There are some parts of the woodland where Hannah feels uneasy. As we approach she goes slightly stiff legged and walks carefully behind me, allowing me to encounter any dangers first.
Hannah is not a guard dog.
This beautiful plot of land has known great sadness.
People have suffered here, and there are parts of the woodland where the hairs rise on the back of Hannah's neck and all along her spine, so that she looks like a Rhodesian Ridgeback. She sticks close to my heels, looking to neither right nor left.
This is the site of the old hospital mortuary. Hannah picks up some sort of vibe and just wants to get past the place, not to linger for even the most interesting scent.
I feel sad too. A sense of gloom hangs over this stretch of woodland, but Hannah's behaviour emphasises my own feeling. Which comes first - the dog's reaction or my own?
We both step briskly out of the woodland and through the gate into the meadow where she bounds and pirouettes with joy - instant transformation in the open sunlight.
She knows what is coming, but bounces and grins and waits for permission to go.
There is water ahead, usually a stream with shallow pools, and she can hurl herself into it with the sort of abandon that occurs when a happy Labrador senses water. She can hit the water and flop down into it, then race through it, biting at it, laughing at it, revelling in it, a joy as infectious as the gloom of ten minutes ago.
I can share her enjoyment, the enjoyment of sunshine, an open space, freedom, the view of the hills. I do not need to join her in the water, although she would clearly like me to do so, and cannot quite understand my reluctance. She comes and shakes herself close to me, demonstrating that water is good, wetness is great, a damp car is going to smell heavenly.
Hannah is not my dog. She is a friend, and a much valued friend because whenever I have the urge to go and find myself another dog to rescue I call on Hannah. She reminds me, in the best possible way, that owning a dog is a great big responsibility, a great big expense. It involves limitations and forward planning, and I've done all that for many years. I must not do it again, because I have other important commitments. If you take on a dog it has to come very high indeed on your agenda, especially when you live alone.
So Hannah and I walk together.
And I'm also very grateful to another good friend who happens to be Hannah's owner.
Friday, 22 June 2012
Raindrops keep falling on our heads in England, and here, in very Middle England, we sit boldly on our hilltops, eyeing the rising levels of surrounding rivers and watching the grey clouds scudding overhead.
We are not afraid of weather, and there are always lots of us who go to celebrate the invisible sunrise at the solstice. Come rain, hail or snow, you really have to admire the 'Druids'.
I am not made of such stern stuff. I have never, even in my distant youth, danced in the dew of a summer solstice, but here is my own brave, slightly defiant smile in the face of adversity.
- My hostas - just look at them above - have never looked better. It is too cold and wet for the slugs to come out.
- We have lots to talk about. In England we always talk about the weather, and this year we can make plenty of jokes about that summer we had in May, and about hosepipe bans. We can be companionable and smile and raise our eyebrows at each other as we go scurrying down to the shops in the teeth of the gale. That is unless we are having to hang on to the umbrella with such grim determination that we can't see where we are going and we bump into one another. But that can be companionable, too.
- We are saving a lot of money by not having to purchase sun-block.
- We don't have to worry about what to wear. We wear something warm under something waterproof, with Wellington boots as standard footwear. There are some stylish and jolly amusing Wellies printed with ducks and frogs and daisies.
- Lots of plants look beautiful, sprinkled with the diamonds of raindrops. This balances out those that have been beaten into submission by gales.
- The ducks in the park are very happy.
- No one has had to pack away their winter clothes nor change the duvet for the summer-weight one. Or if they have they've changed back again.
- I felt a bit guilty, buying a new folding umbrella because I forgot the old one the other day. I spent four pounds, but it has earned its keep ten times over.
- People have lots of extra interest, wondering if they are going to be able to play/watch cricket. Or not.
- I had these very special sunglasses, made for wind-surfing. (How I got them is another story.) One of my sons said, "Wow, Mum, those are cool surfers!" and I just said, nonchalantly, "Yes, I know." They were on the passenger seat of the car, and a friend sat on them, but it really doesn't matter. To be honest, I could barely see through them in this gloom, and even I realise that they are not so cool in lashing rain.
- We are not woken by blinding sunrise, forcing its way through the blinds at 4.30 a.m. In fact we can leave the blinds open and hardly know if it is night or day. It becomes not unlike the White Nights of St. Petersburg, and we can go into a gently meditative state and start looking for the Northern Lights.
- Friends asked me to water their garden while they were away for a fortnight. Not once did I have to touch a tap, but I did go round every other day to tip water out of pots to try to stop plants from drowning.
- This soft and gentle grey air (when the wind drops), this soft and gentle rain (when it comes vertically, not horizontally), this soft and gentle grey light - all are kinder to the eyes and the complexion than harsh sunlight, and really the gloomier and dimmer the light the kinder it becomes for women over a certain age.
But if, by any chance, the sun should break through the dark and billowing clouds we will all tear off our woollies, waterproofs and wellies and start complaining about the heat.
Visitors heading this way for Those Games, be aware!
Thursday, 7 June 2012
Every day I put out food for the many wild creatures that have moved into my garden, often with a kernel of doubt that I may be creating artificial conditions and thus encouraging unnatural behaviour patterns, always with a sense of responsibility that having started this pattern I must continue it.
Wildlife does not come cheap in this place!
A wide variety of birds hang about all the time, making noisy disputes when the bird-table is topped up. I have the identifiable residents, the jackdaw who has pestered me over the past few years, and some of his flock who have distinctive white patches in their wings. I thought I had two pairs of blackbirds, but a recent wildlife programme 'Springwatch' casts doubt on this, having found that a garden may be visited by a great many more pairs that the one or two assumed by the human residents. I have thrushes and wrens and countless little brown numbers in between. I could not begin to count them, and after Springwatch I realise I couldn't estimate them either.
There are no hedgehogs here these days, which is a sad loss, and this year I have not had any starlings either, an equal loss. However, I have badgers at the bottom of the garden and they are served supper as dusk falls.
Yesterday I was at home in the late afternoon. I moved to a window to open it, and in doing so startled a fox, out in broad daylight, pathetically searching for fallen scraps beneath the bird table.
Before it bolted away it made full eye contact with me for a number of seconds.
It was a most powerful experience.
When a wild animal knows enough about you to hold that sort of eye contact there is a feeling of real communication, although whether it was fear, or challenge, or a sort of anxious request I could not tell.
I interpreted it as anxious request, because for an animal to be so near to the house, so early in the evening, it must have been desperate, starving.
The thought that there is a wild animal in my garden desperate enough to virtually beseech for help is hard to bear. Perhaps I'm being anthropomorphic, but those long seconds of eye contact have a profound effect.
It was not the animal photographed here, but a thin creature beset with mange - but the look in the eyes was the same.
So now there is at least one additional guest for supper, whose meal will be available rather earlier than the later evening service for the badgers.
I still don't know if I'm doing right or wrong, but I'm pretty sure that if I lived a few centuries ago I would be branded an old witch, living alone, surrounded by my familiars and talking to the birds.
Leslee of 3rd House Journal has written a clever and thought-producing poem, 13 Ways of looking at a Fox,which you can find 'here'.