November 7th, 2010. 6.30 a.m. Clear, calm and cold. Just above freezing, I’d say. There’s no frost on the ground or the grass, but a fine white film slicks the tops of the wooden fence posts. I step out, and for the first time this year I don’t know which way to turn. I’ve taken every possible combination of routes, many times over. It’s a fine morning for a walk alright, but my heart’s not in it and my feet are heavy. I head towards the light, in the south-eastern quarter. It being a Sunday, the road is mine. Jackdaws and rooks are about. The cattle up on the airfield are lowing, the sound carrying loud in the morning, yet I can barely hear the traffic on the A14 away to the west, the usual unrelenting, rumbling undertone of these parts. There’s no perceptible breeze so it’s not that at all. In Kashmir a measure of distance is the call of a cow. Hmmm. The brook is carrying a good amount of water, clear, flowing slowly but steadily into the ocean 30 or 50 or 100 cow-calls’ away. I kick through fallen leaves. An old willow has been stripped to the bones of its branches, and most trees are now looking thinner, showing more sky…their fat has returned to the earth…except for the ash and the oak, still fully-leaved and clothed in green. As I pass beneath trees, I wake woodpigeons. The hollow whoomp-whoomp of their quills as they launch into flight fills the morning. Out in the fields they are beginning to gather into their large winter flocks. The grass is soaked and my feet soon feel the wet. A lone jogger, on the other side of a field-hedge, trundles by, breathing hard. I walk up the muddy edge of a field, sown with winter wheat perhaps, a million single green blades breaking through the brown weight of earth. Lone black rooks sit solemn and still. In the distance, mist blurs the trees on the skyline. A country of clouds in the low southern sky hides the sun but above them is bright silver-blue. I check out the woodpecker copse, the clear-running ditch from Histon, the kestrel windbreak behind Westwick House, the cherry-plum thicket, but only blackbirds scold and tut at my presence. Back on the village road, a bread-delivery truck rushes past. A single black squirrel, or very dark brown, skips across the guided-busway. More common in the village just to the south, in Girton, I’ve rarely seen these melanistic mobsters in these parts, though last year one came into my garden. Come to think of it though, I’ve seen only a handful of greys in my whole patch this year. I’ve seen more muntjacs than squirrels. Approaching home I hear the once familiar, once even irritating, persistent chirping of house sparrows. There they are again, those drab and recently despised gutter-snipes and eaves-droppers. Only a handful still have a precarious foothold on the nation’s fascias. Once not worth a look, I now stop and stare.
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