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hedgeharvestwalk64

20th August 2010, the tenth day of Ramadan. Windy days draw me out, and today is such a day. It is fine and dry with a strong warm wind coming out of the west – a kite-flying day, if I had one. At any one time a thousand separate clouds, equidistant from each other, all at the same height above ground, and all more or less the same size and shape, process steadily across a huge sky. Above them are stationery schools of mackerel clouds and gorgeous swirls of cirrus set in deep luminous blue. Between the running cloud-islands the sun pools down on the land, polishing every surface. The wind ebbs and surges, bowing the smaller trees and churning through the copses and woods. From a distance it really does sound like the sea.

The fine weather has brought out the heavy machinery. In the distance a tractor is dragging a disc harrow, slowly and systematically painting the dull earth a uniform rich cinnamon-brown and trailing a wake of white gulls. How do they know? How do they know that the earth will be opened today? Only very occasionally this summer have I seen gulls passing by, and then just in ones and twos. Now two dozen have materialized out of nowhere. Perhaps they smell it. The air is saturated with the odour of freshly-turned earth.

Butterflies are about again, after the wet weeks – mostly Large Whites though I come across one rather battered Painted Lady, orange and black with white-spotted wing-tips, the only one of this species I’ve seen this year. Migrating from the Middle East and North Africa they sometimes mass in their millions across Britain. Not so this year, not here. But today dragonflies abound. I see them everywhere, near and far from water. They glide effortlessly, it seems, without wing movement, until, against the light, you see their four transparent gossamer wings a-quivering at the very edge of perception.

I come across two dead rabbits, fairly fresh still and whole, with no obvious cause of demise. Then, on three separate occasions, a rabbit blunders towards me, blind and disoriented, eyes puffed, red, oozing puss. Myxomatosis. There is no known cure for this deliberately-introduced plague, first observed in laboratory rabbits (surprise, surprise), except long-term genetic resistance. Death takes, on average, 14 days.

On a happier note I discover another section of the old medieval track hedged with wild plum bushes laden with fruit – round red cherry plums, oval orange-yellow mirabelles and ox-blood red bullaces. For me these wild plums have been a real discovery this year – far superior to any supermarket plum, delicious raw or stewed, and abundant across the district. I pick several kilos of sweet cherry plums and mirabelles and throw in a few handfuls of sloes for bite, to be savoured later at fast-breaking time.

the startling blueness of sloes, fruit of the blackthorn

There are few birds about, except woodpigeons who seem to relish the wind, and a party of some dozen wittering swallows who ply back and forth over a bean-field. I sit by a field-gate and watch them for ten minutes or so. They swoop low along the edge of the field, in the shelter of a hedge, and when they reach the gate opening and the brunt of the wind they flick upwards and over, twisting back for the home run, all the while making small noises. When I stand up they fly within a few feet of my head.

I walk home with a bag of wild plums at my wrist, an exhilarating wind in my face, and the world all around me in motion.

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boragewalk56

21st July, 2010. 6.30 a.m. Through the fields to Girton, across to Histon by way of a footpath, then back to Oakington on the track beside the guided-busway. A great wave of deep purple cloud, twenty miles long from east to west, rolls out of the north like a breaker, its advancing front curling dark against the light, its trailing edge thinning and foaming until it dissolves in the early morning sky. Within half an hour it has vanished over the southern horizon, leaving in its wake a blue day of sunshine.

I explore a narrow strip of abandoned, overgrown orchard sandwiched between the plastic-wrapped tunnels of a strawberry outfit and a field of fallow. A potential bivouac site for the future. Attenuated apple and plum trees reach for the light above a thicket of brambles, nettles and thistles. Hard nuggets of jade-green plums, powdered with bloom, hang overhead. Blackcap, chaffinch and greenfinch skip through the interlaced branches, and I fancy I see a dunnock or hedge sparrow, a rarity now. Rabbits scupper ahead. But I can go only so far, without a machete, and have to back through a blackthorn hedge into the light and air of open country. It’s no place to sleep.

Across to the roaring fields, roaring, that is, with the black noise of A14 traffic a mile away. The lapwing field has been turned and broken, its greasy, grey-brown clods faceted and glinting in the sun. Ploughing delayed, and a crop relinquished, I’m certain, for the sake of the birds. I’d like to meet this farmer. In fact I catch sight of him later from afar, already hard at work harrowing the other lapwing field below Girton, but it’s out of my way and I’ve no wish to stand in front of oncoming agricultural machinery in the middle of a field flapping my arms up and down like a lunatic. Not today. Interestingly, the adjacent field is sown to wheat, and between the crop and the grass verge is a bare strip of ground a couple of feet wide which here and there along its 300 meter length is populated with borage, the well-known culinary and medicinal herb. It must have been sown deliberately, surely?  Its sky-blue, inverted, down-turned flowers are truly extraordinary. The plant hails originally from Aleppo, Syria, according to Mrs. Grieve’s Modern Herbal, and is now naturalized across most of Europe. Gerard tells us that “Those of our time do use the flowers in sallads to exhilerate and make the mind glad. There be also many things made of these used everywhere for the comfort of the heart, for the driving away of sorrow and increasing the joy of the minde … Syrup made of the floures of Borage comforteth the heart, purgeth melancholy and quieteth the phreneticke and lunaticke person”. Natural Prozac then. I must return to gather a bag-full some time.

At Girton the bed of Beck Brook is as dry as a rambla in the Andalusian hills. Lying on the road is a baby hedgehog, just five inches long, dead, blood still leaking from a wound in the neck. One black shiny eye looks up at the sky. Its nose is still moist. I pick it up by one of its damp, putty-soft feet and lay it down in the shade of a hedge. It’s the first hedgehog I’ve seen this year, dead or alive. One used to frequent the shed in the garden and join the cats at their bowl but it hasn’t appeared for a while.

The gentle, murmuring collared doves are everywhere now, always in pairs, always in love. A couple is dancing, on the ground, in a farmyard. They circle each other closely, spreading and flattening their wings, then they spring up together, a few feet into the air, clapping their wings noisily as they do so. This is repeated over and over every ten seconds. The courtship of doves is a prolonged, intense, energetic affair – fifteen minutes later, when I must move on, they are still dancing, showing no sign of fatigue.

It is a brilliant morning, the sun now at about 40 degrees from the horizon, pouring down a pure light that sharpens the mind as well as the eye. I can see further today, and deeper. The far horizons, where the land lifts gently to the sky or where trees break the skyline, are as clear as the flowering grasses before me. Near at hand, windrows of golden hay lay soft on the land, still to be gathered. Butterflies are out and about, including a Peacock, almost black on the wing but spreading its rich red-velvet wings when at rest, revealing the four large peacock-feather eye-spots that give it its name. Also a single bright lemon-yellow Brimstone, not seen since mid-April. Underfoot, even the smooth concrete track of the busway sparkles with colour. As I near home, children are making their way to school, skipping and chasing and clapping and laughing. A day to be alive.

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justanothersummermorningwalk55

July 18th, 2010. To Histon woods and back. Three hours, with much watching and waiting. A cool, quiet and lightly overcast Sunday morning, as gentle as a dove. Many small flocks about, family groups most probably. Yesterday, half a dozen rather scruffy long-tailed tits passed through my garden, practising acrobatics in the cherry and apple-trees. They worked each tree together, as a team, chattering in their thin, mousey voices, then moved on to the next. Today, three or four juvenile goldfinches (a charm of goldfinches?), with bright yellow wing patches but without the striking head pattern of the adult, are busy in a hedgerow hawthorn, and in the spinney by the brook, seven magpies fuss together – seven for a secret never to be told. A wedding party of swifts streaks over the road, squealing excitedly. I watch a green woodpecker fly up onto a wooden railing. It looks behind, as if waiting for something. Another soon flies up and joins it, a juvenile by the look of its indistinct, mottled plumage. The adult flies on, the juvenile following. I have the clear impression that some kind of lesson is going on here. I hadn’t realised just how familial many species of birds are  – parents and offspring, or just siblings perhaps, staying close together after fledging, at least during their first summer.

The ground that has been cleared by rabbits as they graze back the edges of the wheat fields is layered in droppings. They consume considerable amounts of grain to be sure, to the loss of the farmer, but in doing so they fertilize the land. Short-term loss, long-term gain, I’d say. All the road verges and many of the field verges round here have been shorn this past week, their wild flowers and grasses mown down in their prime. In a district of wall-to-wall field crops, species-poor pastures and manicured gardens the verges are often the only habitat left for many wild plants and the creatures that depend on them, not least the butterflies, bees and other pollinators, and the carnivorous insects that keep pests at bay. I am at a loss to explain this wilful vandalism, especially along roadside verges, but I think it may have something to do with a national obsession with tidiness. The countryside must be tidied up, i.e. controlled, at all costs. This is tragic. Both a short-term and long-term loss.

Having said that, I do see numerous butterflies today but mostly in the bramble patches of the scrubland below Histon and along the brooksides – Small Whites, Large Whites, Meadow Browns and Ringlets, a single Comma, and a couple of Red Admirals, the latter migrants from southern Europe and North Africa. To think that one of these may have sipped from a glass of sweet mint tea in Fez or Chefchaouen only days ago and is here now in front of me is more marvellous, to my mind, than men walking on the moon – and accomplished with more beauty, economy and panache. I find a new butterfly too – the small, brown-fringed, orange Gatekeeper.

In the lands of Abbey Farm at Histon are two groves of mature ash, linden, sycamore, oak and even a few pine trees. They are the closest we have in the district to woodland. Just as I’m about to enter the trees, a hawk dashes out and swerves back under the canopy. A two-second glimpse, a two-second thrill. All I see is a grey back and a heavily barred tail – it could have been a merlin, possibly a sparrowhawk, certainly not a kestrel. I quietly enter the wood and think I see it fly again, above the trees. Then again, just a flash of wing as it moves to another part of the copse. I follow. I spend so long looking straight up, through dark leaves into dazzling light, searching, searching, that I crick my neck and spin with kaleidoscopic retinal patterns. To no avail, it’s gone. Another tantalizing glimpse of the wild.

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sundaymorningwalk52

July 11th, 2010. A short mid-morning walk, or rather stalk…. butterflies, as it happens. Warm, cloud-filled, and windy. Hot when the sun breaks through. The parkland below Westwick House is like dry-season savanna, so desiccated and sparse that the sheep have been removed elsewhere. Oakington Brook, which is more like a drain, is now dry where it runs past the rec. In winter it carries four feet of water within its deep-set banks. Today I pick my way down its damp, soft mud-bed, glyphed with the prints of unknown birds and small mammals, until I reach water – stagnant, moss-green puddles and pools in hiding between clumps of reeds. High above, the leaves of black poplars roar and rattle in the wind, releasing balsam scents into the air as they rub against each other, transporting me back fifty years in a matter of milliseconds, back to my boyhood in Africa, climbing tall, swaying poplars at the bottom of the garden. I think poplars may be especially musical because their leaves are relatively thick and clack against each other like castanets when bestirred. I would like to be able to recognize trees by the sounds they make in the wind, and by their woodsmoke smells in the winter… the kind of common knowledge, folk wisdom, held by all country dwellers and not a few townsmen in the past, now deemed useless, quaint, frivolous even.

This is not the season for birds. Only woodpigeons, rooks and a pair of green woodpeckers are out and about. The rookery at Westwick House, incidentally, which is usually a vortex of raucous sound, has been silent for a few weeks or more and appears to have been abandoned. It seems that once their offspring have fledged and flown, rooks disperse for the summer. They are still in the neighbourhood, hanging around, but less congregational, and less noisy.

Ringlet

No, now is the season of butterflies. I struggle up the steep bank of the brook onto the verge of the rape field, elbowing my way through shoulder-high grasses, willowherb, thistles and nettles, disturbing dozens of the beauties. I spend several frustrating and largely fruitless hours trying to photograph them but they are uncooperative and the breeze doesn’t help. For identification purposes most of the blurred images are fairly useless, but some I already know. The larger ones belong to just seven species – Large Whites, Orange Tips, Ringlets, Meadow Browns, Speckled Woods and one lobed and scalloped orange Comma – and further down the brook, several magnificent fiery Red Admirals. There are smaller ones too, whose names I don’t know. Mostly the butterflies work alone, alighting especially on the tufted purple flowers of thistles, but now and again they cross flight-paths with others of their kind, of the opposite sex no doubt, and spiral away, sometimes three or more together, in an erratic, zigzagging, ascending dance, now parting, now coming together to fleetingly touch, weaving invisible tapestries of pheromone trails.

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pikewalk51

July 8th, 2010. A 5-mile walkabout before breakfast, north up the guided-busway, east by Reynold’s Drove, south by Cuckoo Lane, then west along the Cottenham-Oakington road. It’s been a while since I’ve taken this route.

It rained during the night and there are puddles again on pavement and road but I suspect it has only wetted the lips of the land. I walk out into light drizzle that soon peters out. From north to south and from east to west the sky is covered by one, unbroken, uniformly dove-grey layer of stratus. Slowly during the course of the walk dappled cloud formations emerge out of this undifferentiated ocean of vapour. They come into being from unbeing, bringing texture and hue and shape and movement to the overcast sky. So the world is made manifest from the unmanifest.

The moribund busway is fairly busy with commuter cyclists at this time of morning but few return my greeting. Most are plugged in to iPods and MP3s and simply don’t hear my g’mornings. Neither do they hear the skylarks, yellowhammers, jackdaws and collared doves that compose the soundscape around them. They are, for the most part, utterly un-plugged – disconnected from the world and the people around them – at least when they’re cycling. If I were king……

I am always thrilled to see a heron. They are such big birds. And they evoke the primeval. As one flies away from me, following the brook as it winds through the fields, its distinctive wing movement is all too apparent – deep, slow beats with the whole wing held stiff from the shoulder, mechanical, laboured, quite unlike the supple, bowed wingbeats of buzzards and rooks, for example, with their splayed and upturned primaries.

The wheat in the fields is yellowing in patches while the barley is all pale golden-beige, almost ripe for reaping. Hay-fields have already been cleared and present open expanses of closely-cropped stubble. Brambles are in violet-pink flower (rather than white), now dominating the hedgerows and waste grounds. Dozens of medium-sized, dark brown butterflies that I take to be Ringlets or Meadow Browns work the flowers along the steep bank of the brook, among which are occasional clumps of the lovely blue-purple meadow cranesbill. Of white flowers out now are large daisies and mayweeds, white campions still and yarrow emerging, but the largest and showiest are the pure white, trumpet-shaped bindweeds, three inches across, the scourge of farmers and gardeners, but surely one of our brightest flowers on a dull day.

Large Bindweed

As is so often the case, just as I come into the village at the end of my walk, lamenting the absence of wildlife, I am truly taken by surprise. I peer over the bridge into Beck Brook, as I customarily do, expecting no more than a mallard perhaps, or a moorhen. But today, here, where the brook is at its most streamlike, perhaps eight feet wide and a foot deep at this driest of seasons, I see something remarkable…..not one, but two, wild fish – proper fish, big enough to eat. How can I get so excited about fish? Well in six months I’ve never seen anything larger than a paperclip in this rivulet, not even a fingerling. The first is sculling slowly upstream, silverish with dark dorsal fin and tail. Allowing for the distortion of water and the exaggeration that fishpersons are prone to, I’d say it is about 10 inches long. I’ve no idea what it is – it’s shaped like a trout but is definitely not. Nearby, on the muddy bottom, lying as still as a corpse, as they do, is the unmistakable body-shape of a pike, or rather, a pickerel. It is slender, perhaps a foot long, olive green with dark, broken vertical stripes, and that distinctive, flattened snout like a dolphin’s beak. It barely stirs – it is in hunting mode. I don’t know why the discovery of two substantial fish in the stream should be so thrilling, so significant… perhaps I need to get out more …. but I know now why heron frequent this surprising sliver of water.

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maywalk37

May 4th, 2010. For the sake of brevity, notes, not notions or narrative, I tell myself. The best thing about England, surely, is the weather. Other places have wilderness, we have weather. Loads of it. It deserves to be celebrated. For the past month – dry and warm, with many glorious, sunshiny days. For the last few days – spring showers, during the day and night, big clouds, and a sudden fall in temperature. It has been cold, jersey-and-coat cold, even scarf-cold, if you’re out, borne on a chilly north-easterly blow. All’s been in motion – clouds, trees, grasses, litter. Then this afternoon – calm, a mostly blue sky, and sun again, warm in the lee of a hedge. Summerish even. I’m out.

I check first the lapwings in the fallow to the south-west of the village, fearing that it might have been ploughed and the birds displaced. It hasn’t and they’re still there, though I can only see two on the ground, in different parts of the field. They must be nesting by now. Their long crest plumes are blown over sideways, giving them a rakish, dissolute air. A male blackcap, the first I’ve seen this year outside the garden, is busy deep in a hedgerow, sounding like a loud, very squeaky wheelbarrow being pushed at a run. A scarlet-faced goldfinch, with brilliant golden wing bands, sits on the topmost twig of a bush.

I follow the brook for a mile upstream. The water has risen a little. My sudden appearance flushes a pair of mallard. Then, at the confluence by the copse, cruising, is a mother mallard with four ducklings, surely the same family I’ve seen before on this stretch. If so, they have all somehow survived. 100 yards upstream, seven more ducklings, excitedly scooping up insects from the surface, whirling around like bumper cars. Strangely, no parent to be seen. They are alone, but not abandoned I hope. When they become aware of my presence, they bunch together and remain quite still on the water, unsure of what to do next. Pale yellow faces and breasts, with a dark band running back from the brow, over the head, and down the back, with an elegant black eye-stripe and single spot on the cheek by way of mascara. Dark bodies blotched pale yellow. Then one breaks away from the group, heading downstream, and the others all follow. A flotilla of fluff. Upstream, another female with four ducklings, and further on again, three drakes splash off and wing away muttering. These are wild mallard, not city park or village pond ducks, on a quiet, unfrequented stretch of the brook. How can this sunken slip of a stream support so many wildfowl? Next a grey heron lifts heavily out of the ditch, is mobbed by a rook, and circles wide over adjacent fields, slowly, legs trailing behind and great wings flapping untidily like washing on a line. I’ve seen one before in this neck of the woods so it might well be locally resident. It seems to be waiting for me to move on, which I do.

The lush growth of grass and herbage make for more difficult walking. A few butterflies ply the stream edge – Orange Tips, a single pale lemon-green Brimstone, and a lovely brown Speckled Wood, with creamy yellow markings and ‘eyes’ with black centres. I am growing fond of butterflies. Their vulnerability to the human enterprise and consequent scarcity, their role in the web of life, and exquisite coloration and detailing make them worthy of our closer attention.

A strange scent has been nagging at my nostrils, at once sweet and sour. Lightly rancid, you could say, faintly flowery, faintly foul. Of course! It must be the oils emitted by the rape-seed flowers, in huge fields all around. Some people loathe the smell, others react to it badly, sneezing and streaming. En masse, the bright yellow flowers dominate large swathes of countryside at this time of year, a yellow invasion, reviled by some as a blot on the traditional landscape. But up close, in small doses, the plant is showy enough to earn a place in the herbaceous border, I’d say, if I had one. Swallows, swooping low over the flowering sea, seem undaunted, and skylarks still lark in the crop.

The big winter flocks have long since dispersed, but a sizable gang of starlings or starnels, some 30 or 40 strong, work through a pasture, rising and settling as one. When they glide down together on short triangular wings, they’re like miniature delta-winged aircraft. I walk an asphalted footpath that leads along the back gardens of Histon and its conjoined twin Impington, urbanised villages, dissected by traffic. Chain-link fencing, four-letter surveillance. Neighbourhood watched. A collared dove, with round black eyes outlined in white, blinks a white eyelid. Terraced streets, then onto the main road to Cottenham. Even at 6.30 the commute’s still in full flow.

I branch off down a long Mill Lane into clear country. I’m at the eastern extremity of my territory here. It feels good – expansive, open, quiet, uncluttered. The farmer at Mill Lane Farm has been good enough to lay out a network of ‘permissive pathways’ (strange choice of word), in the absence of any public right of way, allowing walkers to tramp through his extensive lands stretching almost to Cottenham. Big fields, no hedges or ditches, wide skies. Too much for me today. I leave the pleasure for another time and turn homewards. It’s been a warm walk, and therefore especially delicious to slip through the dim, sub-aqueous, yew-shaded churchyard at Histon. In the meadows below the village, I stretch out in thick grass and look up into unbroken blue.

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sparrowhawkwalk35

April 27th, 2010. Heard the first cuckoo of the year, calling its name, at 8 this morning in the lulls between traffic. About a mile away, towards the brook. A rich, resonant, far-reaching two-note call repeated over and over, the quintessential sound of spring, as if the season had been distilled in an oak barrel and was now spilling over (spring overwhelms, and writers must be forgiven for indulging in a little purple prose or hyperbole at this time). In the late afternoon I take a long, slow, circuitous ramble to Histon, with many still stops, reaching into the evening.

The brook, and the two rivulets that feed into it locally, is barely flowing. Except in the shallowest parts the water seems hardly to move. So dry has the weather been for some weeks that the water-level has dropped by almost a foot, exposing bare mud below banks lush with growth. The water, curiously, is now a dull yellowish brown. Aquatic plants and rushes are growing apace and threaten to cover the surface completely in places. In the more open stretches tiny fish in ragged groups dart here and there, like kids in a schoolyard, and whirlygigs send concentric ripple-rings over the surface. There’s no sign of my snake.

Spring’s in full flush. In gardens and orchards pink apple blossom of some early varieties has opened in the last day or two, and horse-chestnuts are lighting their candles. Paths and tracks are sprinkled white with the fallen petals of blackthorn, like the aftermath of a wedding. Field verges and banks of the ditches and brook are now knee-deep in stinging nettles, deadnettles, cow parsley, hedge garlic, all sorts of grasses, and unknown burgeoning greenery. I wade through it all, releasing chlorophyll scents. Most shrubs and trees are now in leaf (except for the oak and the ash, perhaps, of which more anon). To me the loveliest of new leaves are the glossy, coppery hearts-hanging-down of the black poplars lining the brook, and the downy ivory-green butterfly wings of the whitebeam. Against all this abundance of bright, fresh greenstuff they are a welcome sight. How quickly we get used to green.

The gathering foliage renders birds and other creatures all but invisible. Except for the butterflies, more conspicuous now. They are hardly abundant, but several Small Whites, Orange Tips, and Peacocks cruise up and down the bank where I’m sitting, the latter resembling small bats with their dark brown underwings and fast, flitty flight. One alights on the back of my hand and rests awhile, spreading its gorgeous rusty-red, eye-spotted wings in the sun. The upper forewings of the male Orange-Tip are dipped in rich orange, ostentatious in flight, but when it stops to sip nectar it folds its wings upward to reveal pale, mottled, gauzy underwings which blend with the blossoms it feeds on. You’d never know it was there. White-bummed bumblebees barrel through the air and a mist of midges cavorts over the water. Suddenly, the lower air is alive.

In a tiny island of mature trees, fallen boughs and thick undergrowth in the midst of vast fields, I provoke a sudden, unfamiliar alarm call. Looking up, I see it is a great spotted woodie, ‘great’ being somewhat misleading, as this one is only the size of a starling. It is great only in relation to its middle spotted and little spotted cousins. It has no crimson nape, which means it’s a female, but, still, it is confusingly small for the species. Perhaps it’s a juvenile, though the season’s against it. I have come to realize that there are variations within species that don’t match the airbrushed pictures in bird books. I watch the woodpecker for some time, as it works round bare branches with desultory tapping. I want it to ‘drum’, but it fails to perform.

Further on, in a great field of green wheat below Histon, my attention is caught by a pale form gliding into the crop. At first I take it for a female pheasant, but when it rises I see it is a hawk, clutching a catch in one claw. It is, I’m certain, a sparrowhawk, the first I’ve ever seen anywhere. It flies with rapid, shallow wing-beats low over the field then rises up to perch on top of a telephone pole where it hunches to tear flesh and feathers. For a full twenty minutes it eats with calm deliberate bites, then straightens up and broods over its territory. It is a long way away, at least 500 yards, and I need to get closer. The pole is in the middle of the cornfield but I figure that if I walk round to the other side I will be a little nearer, and moreover, the sun will be at my back, giving me a clearer view. So I set off, with one eye on the hawk. It is a long trudge around three sides of a square and, almost inevitably, the hawk absconds before I get there and disappears over a horizon of trees. It is gone.

But, instead, I meet Edouard, an engaging young man being walked by four handsome, pure-bred huskies with unnerving blue eyes and a touch of the wolf. Born and brought up in Spain, of English parentage, he is over here to gain an education of sorts. Not willing to be parted from his beloved childhood companions, he has brought his dogs with him. They are on long retractable leashes and at times they threaten to turn him into a maypole. Being up close to these no-ordinary creatures is some consolation, I suppose, for the loss of a hawk.

Up in the old woods that once belonged to the manor of Histon I hug an ancient, hollow-trunked oak that I’ve visited before (see picture in mornwalk26). It is 4 hugs round at chest height – that’s a girth of just under 23 feet or just short of 7 meters – which roughly translates to 500 years by my reckoning. The longevity of trees is truly humbling. It is no wonder that some people worship them. If you’re going to worship a living, created being,  it might as well be an old tree such as this. It’s outlived everything else. It has endured. Actually this particular veteran, surely the oldest on my patch, is marked on the Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree map, with a girth of just 6.3 meters. Next time I’ll bring a measuring tape. It is, I notice, in leaf, in the process of leafing at least, the first oak I’ve seen to be leafing, and this is significant, as I’ll explain in some later post, for predicting the weather this year.

I arrive back in my village in the late slanting evening to a susurration of pigeons, swallows swooping, church bells ringing, and the bleating of ewes, while a gang of their offspring career madly round the meadow playing follow-my-leader. The epitome of springtime in England. It’s a truly glorious evening… that is, one full of glory, glorifying… glorifying the Creator, the Divine.

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