Day 47

Yesterday evening provided a striking sunset. The Sun appeared from behind the solid bank of cloud on its descent and glowed orange in a narrow, low band of clear sky on the horizon. The light was flooded out under the cloud bank across the reed beds, reflecting off the bottom of the clouds and the top of the rain-filled pools. The reeds edged the scene as inverted tassels against the glow.

Shelducks, a redshank and a typically morose heron were some of the few birds visible. Two hares raced around the pasture and a muntjac deer had come down and across the road from the heath onto the path. It disappeared in the dusk. Bats were active around the green and the village cats were gathering again.

That cloud bank dominated today. Sunlight made a brief appearance in the morning, but it soon dulled to leave a grey day. Mowing the grass was done with care. I had an eye out for a toad that had been seen by the tiny pond under the wild plum tree. The scent of fresh cut grass filled the air for much of the afternoon until the smell of cooking eventually predominated.

The grass cutting temporarily dissuaded the birds from the garden, but eventually chaffinches, sparrows and robins came back over the fence. The young robin with its parent frequently returned to feed, as well as a third beautifully marked solitary adult. Blue tits seem to have nested in the old nest box hung on the side of the shed.

The two brown rats made brief visits and stimulated vigorous investigations of possible hideaways. There are signs of their tunnelling, but of course they have chosen places that are not easily reached. The growing confidence of the clever rat has led to the re-siting of the bird fat, which now hangs in a small metal cage from the washing line. How attractive this is to the local bird fraternity is questionable. The nut feeders have also been moved to the far end of the garden near the shed. The birds will find them sooner or later, but they have plenty of naturally available food to eat at this time of year. 

In the past few days I have seen many blackbirds of both sexes travelling with beaks filled with various small worms and centipedes. The earlier rain and now the mowing have encouraged the blackbirds to strut about on the lawn, tails proudly raised. These birds are enthusiastic in the pursuit of earthworms and they have been quick to take advantage of the need for the worms to move closer to the surface after the recent showers.

One thing that I need to investigate is the fascination that one chaffinch in particular seems to have with a shallow hollow in the lawn not far from the backroom window. It returns time and again and gets low into the same dip in the ground and busies itself with picking at the ground there. Are there ants there?

The yellow appearance of oak tree leaves is not good news, as I thought. Acute Oak Decline (AOD) is prevalent across East Anglia and in other regions of the British Isles. The appearance of young yellow leaves is a symptom ill-health.

The bark is badly affected by the disease and mature oaks, that might otherwise live for hundreds of years, are being killed off within four to five years by infection. There is research being carried out on whether the native oak jewel beetle is part of the problem, or whether it is attracted to the decaying bark of infected trees. The symptoms of this disease have been known of since 1918, but only now is an extensive research project being carried out.

This grey day passes quietly. No cuckoos that I am aware of, but a lark, the robins and blackbirds sing on regardless of the low light levels.

Along the footpaths, lanes and byways the Alexander plants are running riot in the absence of the local council verge trimming services; another consequence, dare I say, of central government cut-backs. One of the villagers has taken it on himself to tackle these invasive, gigantic, celery-like plants near his house with a sickle.

I enjoy talking with you this afternoon. The hundreds of kilometres of separation closes in an instant when I hear your voice.

.

Christopher Perry

3rd May, 2020

Day 39

The hedgerows are changing. The blackthorn’s fine white petals have thinned out and the dark spikes are being shaded out by greenery, as the hawthorn, the May Tree is dressing up in its finery. Where the plant is a tree, it shines out from copses and hedgerows. In the shade of the hedge, it is emerging shyly. 

It is emerging in specks in the company of medium-sized flowers, apple trees and stray dog roses. The pallet of flowers has extended from yellows and whites to include blues and some pale pinks.

Along the sides of roads there are surprising numbers of white and pink-flecked apple blossoms. These trees have been flailed into shape by the huge, tractor-borne trimming machines of the farmers. These pretty trees are forced to form part of the hedgerows that they were first cast into as apple cores. They endure their cramped conditions merrily, bringing further variety to the lanes in spring. They will add to the boon of berries, wild plums and haws that will ripen over late summer.

The rough flailing arms of the heavy-duty hedge-trimmers are no match for the occasional oak trees that stand by the roads. The northerly winds have made some impression on the general direction of their spread, which often turns slightly inland, but they remain otherwise solid. The sprouting leaves of oak trees about here are unfolding in limey and yellowy greens. They hint at the dull colours they will become after the next equinox. I do not recall them being this colour in spring until the last few years, at least not quite so yellow. They do not look right to me.

Not all the roadside oaks are turning to leaf. One or two are bleaching, becoming skeletons of their former selves. In one there are three swallows waiting, chirruping to the breeze.

Swallows do a surprising amount of sitting around in between their migratory passages. Telegraph wires are being laid underground as cables and wireless technology now fills the atmosphere with digits, forcing swallows to adapt their lifestyles. I see them on the tops of hedges, fences and now on the bony fingers of dying oaks. The golden age for swallows of telegraph wires, railway signal and bowed telephone lines hanging off poles along every avenue is past.

Swallows are not timid birds and it is possible to see them quite close up at now they are returning to lower level resting spots. They will not up and away in an instant if a gentle approach is made. They need their rest, so do not move unless the movement they see is too threatening.

Competition on remaining telephone lines is increased, gold finches are no problem, but crows, pigeons and starlings all seek space to sit. Pigeons pose remarkably firmly, despite their doughy shapes. Starlings are rarely still, twittering and squeaking as they gather, swapping places, shuffling along, squeezing up, changing ends, but generally all lined-up, like children approximately queuing on a school trip, excited to get into the zoo with their good-natured teacher. Goldfinches, always chirpy in song, are temporary at any perch before somewhere else looks as if it might be a better bet. They move from place to place; shoppers testing sofas in a department store.

It is a Saturday. There are many more people about. Cyclists are more prevalent. Motor vehicles are less utilitarian. It is not uncommon to be passed by a cabriolet with its roof down; a retired couple with sun-glasses and peaked hats on a leisure drive; side-by-side; unspeaking. Walkers choose the ancient tracks and byways, so only intersect with the roads when crossing, as they follow the airy directions of wooden finger posts.

I sustain my commitment to being switched off from phone, emails, internet for two days. It gives me gaps to fall into. Time to think. I think of you, trust that all is well. I allow myself to do absolutely nothing and remember what that feels like.

.

Christopher Perry

26th April, 2020 (written 28th April, 2020)