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"A Country Diary"

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    "A Country Diary"

    This is a series of short but gracefully written nature articles from the Guardian, courtesy of a few different authors. I only discovered these relatively recently and have been browsing back through the archive when I get the time. Occasionally you get the sense that one or two of the writers are trying a little too hard, but for the most part they are very good and a couple of the regular contributors (Paul Evans being one) are wonderful. His writing has become something of an antidote to all the depressing news which has dominated the headlines in recent weeks & months. Just thought I'd copy a few examples across to here in case someone else enjoys them.

    The sun comes out and it is like throwing the switch on a funfair

    An apparition: a small tortoiseshell butterfly, tawny orange with black and yellow insignia, and its wings edged with blue enamel bright as the sky. It emerges from a shed where it was folded like a burnt ticket stub all winter, hibernating or some dream like it. The butterfly is drawn to the yellow tufts of coltsfoot flowers. They appear on brown, scaly stems out of bare earth, breaking from the same magical waiting as the butterfly.

    All it took was for the gyres of low pressure bringing incessant rain to grind off somewhere else and the sun to come out. Like throwing the switch on a funfair, the carousels begin to turn and music fills the air. Crocuses, damson blossom, primroses, daffodils, butterflies, birdsong. The queens escape their dungeons. A huge earth bumblebee shoves her black furry head through the pink curtains of bergenia flowers like a bear in a bedroom. Honeybees pother in vivid blue scillas.
    Compared with the exotic fairground characters of garden plants, coltsfoot flowers seem rude and awkward. They are rough, broken-ground inhabitants, pushed to the margins. These shove against the churchyard wall as if weedy outcasts refused admittance. But the flowers, with their hundred rays of soft yellow bristle, which appear before the colt's-foot-shaped leaves, are not only symbolic of the returning sun, they have a magnetic attraction for insects, which find them instantly, rekindling an old allegiance.
    Inside the church, another small tortoiseshell panics against a window. I scoop it up carefully, take it outside and set it down on porch timbers, where it keels over, exhausted. This one made a mistake: the glass between sanctuary on one side and sun and flowers on the other is covered in the dust of its battered wings. Now the crazy carnival spins faster and louder and the coltsfoot has its blaze of glory.

    A ghostly flower makes its appearance, with a touch of the macabre

    Two pale stems rise from bare earth between stones and hedge roots at the edge of the path. The stems are partially cowled with scales and have clubbed heads that are tightly clenched flower buds. This apparition is about to become something but I don't know what. I want it to be bird's-nest orchid but I'm uncertain, and that makes the thing mysterious. With no chlorophyll to make its own nutrients, bird's-nest orchid steals them, with the aid of conspiratorial fungi, from the roots of other plants. In this case it may be feeding on the roots of the hazel leafing above.
    It has reached the moment of appearance, thrusting itself into shadows to blossom without need of light. This is a ghostly flower with an uncanny beauty. I have been looking at Victorian photographs of ghosts: a series of studio-staged double exposures of people in the woods frightened by transparent spectres, entitled The Phenomenon of Materialisation. In this wood the ghostly orchid is a materialisation: an unexpected appearance, hard to comprehend with an existence so ephemeral compared with our own; it may as well be made from ectoplasm.
    This plant is wonderfully weird and appeals to that fascination for the macabre. And yet this time of year is full of the phenomena of materialisation; it's not about death but about life. Things appear, as if from nowhere, wonderful and strange. One minute the space where sky meets land is the same edgy line it's been all year; the next, there are swallows skimming through it across the hill. They materialised and now everything is different. Then something happens that is much more like the materialisation of a ghost. A cuckoo calls. From woods below, ringing invisibly, the sound produces the shock of joy.

    A foundling magpie

    We had a visitor. All pin and fluff, beak and claw, it hopped up on the garden table. It was a welcome guest. Mostly black but with hints of green and blue, it had some white wing feathers and a pale band across its fanned tail. Its eye was an adult black but the rose-pink at the edge of its gape remained that of a fledgling. Bigger than a jackdaw and not crow-shaped, our visitor was a magpie.The stranger brought with it the stories and prejudices that apply to its kind, and its materialisation out of thin air gave it an air of mystery. Awkward yet bold, vulnerable yet insistent, the squab seemed unruffled by our presence, as if it were seeking us out. On the table it shuffled on its knotty black legs and gammy feet; the claws on one foot were white. Something was wrong but it seemed too able to take to the wildlife rescue down the road, which was inundated with young birds.
    The magpie began to wipe its beak on the table. I'd heard this was a displacement action made when two conflicting drives – perhaps escape or beg food – inhibit each other. It remained silent, presenting itself as a foundling: a life abandoned to be brought into our family.
    The bird had a character far greater than the beaky fluffy ball on wobbly legs suggested. I hesitated, thinking about appropriative relationships between people and wild animals, and the way domestication replaces an understanding and respect for wildness. Then I found a rasher of bacon and pinched off little bits, which the magpie ate ravenously.
    It grabbed a larger piece, hopped down from the table and stashed it under a plant. We took this forward thinking as a good sign, and the young magpie flapped up into a lilac tree to roost. The next morning I found it dead. What if I'd brought it in overnight, taken it to the refuge, fed it proper stuff? I felt responsible for losing the foundling. One for sorrow.

    A tern with the grace, control and daring to make you gasp

    All dressed up with chocolate heads and nowhere to go, a gang of gulls loitered around the weir. These were the unpaired birds of summer and, with no nests to protect or chicks to feed, they hung around on top of their street corner, perching on a traffic-free iron bridge that carried an oil pipe across the river. They took turns to go off on speculative wanders, rising from the roost to patrol the adjoining fields. One was marking a metronomic beat down river when a shrill, strident voice called, a pared-down sound with chopped syllables that seemed to teeter between excitement and panic.The people who milled around at the weir, letting their dogs do the talking, did not look up when the common tern appeared. Had they done so, the white bird flitting over their heads might have passed for "just another gull", albeit one with extensions. It had wings that were extra long and impossibly slender, its beak and neck pulled into a Roman nose, its tail tugged into a trim fork. Some call it the "sea swallow", and it shares the swallow's darting grace and control of apparently disproportionate features.
    The tern began its tipsy flight upstream towards me, a zig then a zag as each wingbeat rocked it a little this way, a little that, all the time holding its height about four metres from the surface. I watched with mounting anticipation, for this bird is the Tom Daley of lakes and rivers, performing in public what the kingfisher does under the privacy of an overhanging willow.
    A jerk of the head, a nod towards the river below, brought an instantaneous change of direction. The tern pivoted in the air to follow its eye, dropped its shoulders, snapped its wings shut and dived. It was a paper plane with weights, making a faint slap as it broke the water's surface. I heard myself gasp out loud, then felt my heart and stomach churn all at once with joy as I saw the tern shake itself free of the river with a fish in its beak.
    Tis but a scratch.

    Check out E.B. White's 'One Man's Meat' for antidotal reading in the face of WWII.
    Gwan Joe!!


      Thanks chippy. Beautifully written piece
      "There are a lot of points that we’ve left behind and this is with a young group. That probably tells you what they’re capable of and that they’re a very good side.

      Probably next year or the year after next they will take some stopping"

      Anthony Foley, May 2016. Axel RIP


        I knew I'd started a thread a while back for the purposes of posting some good writing, but neglected to add to it. However, I came across another piece which prompted me to go digging for this thread. It's by a writer and broadcaster called Roger Deakin, who died some years back, and while it's about travelling rather than nature it struck a chord for me, particularly the section about hitch-hiking which I'm reproducing here.

        In the late 1950s and in the 60s, hitchhiking was a dependable means of transport. It was an age of considerable trust and hitchhiking, for me and my friends, was an education in human kindness. At the time, we saw it in more practical terms: getting a foot in the car door, getting your bottom on a seat. In those pre-Thatcher days, a surprising number of people thought it was pretty selfish to go bowling along alone with empty seats in your car when there were bums aplenty waiting beside the road. After several days hitching south and sleeping rough, most of us soon transmogrified into the other kind of bums: bums with thumbs. Hence the expression bumming a lift, I suppose. Quite why one thumbs a lift I’m not sure. Perhaps because the thumb is the least aggressive, or suggestive of the digits, the other four being reserved for varying degrees of sexual innuendo.

        The favourite gateway for the southbound hitchhiker was the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry, because you could then follow a route through Rouen, Chartres and Orléans that took you to the Route Nationale Vingt – the N20 – and bypassed the hitchhiker’s graveyard, Paris. There were no lifts to be had there. At Dieppe, your thumb would join the forest of others raised aloft at the roadside in a mass demonstration of faith in the essential goodness of human nature and its willingness to chauffeur every last one of us south. Right from the start you would have to face the eternal hitchhiker’s dilemma: whether to choose a good spot, beside a lay-by for example, stay put and risk appearing lazy; or whether to plod on southwards, as if preparing to walk the 700 or 800 miles to the Mediterranean, in the hope of inspiring sympathy and approval. The latter course had two disadvantages – either it meant having your back to the oncoming traffic, depriving motorists of the opportunity to study in advance your eager, open, honest features, or you turned to face them, with the consequent risk of walking backwards into a milestone, pothole or parked car.

        Like angling, hitchhiking required patience and cunning. We were fishers of cars, and we were all connoisseurs of the varied species of our quarry. Most of them are now long-extinct: the Simca, the Panhard Tiger, the slender Renault Dauphine, the hilarious Fiat Topolino, the stylish Citroën 15CV – as driven by Inspector Maigret. The only survivors seem to have been the two real eccentrics: the ubiquitous 2CV and the car you most hoped to ride in, the Citroën DS, known colloquially on the road as “le crapaud” – the toad – with its wide-mouthed bonnet and all its sleek, invisible power somehow concentrated in the car’s slender haunches.

        But this astonishingly advanced and beautiful car was also known by the punning pronunciation of the initials DS in French as “La Déesse” – the goddess. The philosopher Roland Barthes, who was later killed in a car crash, compared the genius of the design of the Déesse to the building of the great French medieval cathedrals as a supreme expression of the spirit of the age. He mentions the many-spired cathedral of Chartres, an ever-fixed mark to which we steered across the yellow oceans of maize and sunflowers from Rouen, and in which I once spent the night hidden between pews in a sleeping bag. Modern France’s new religion of mobility was all there in the Déesse.

        And Barthes was right. The Déesse was a kind of miracle, and a lift in one after a long, dusty vigil in the sun could feel like divine providence. Perched on the Déesse’s sighing white leather seats, hugging our rucksacks, we marvelled at the way the steering wheel appeared to float like a halo, magically suspended by an almost invisible stalk. Shakespeare wrote “My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.” You’d never say that about the Déesse. The car floated, gliding forward effortlessly, having levitated with unhurried dignity from its parked stance, slumped on all fours. You wouldn’t choose a DS for a bank robbery. And there was so much glass. No car had ever been this transparent. Even the headlights swivelled about like two eyes, mysteriously coordinated with the steering, so the Déesse had the uncanny, almost supernatural ability to see round corners at night. The ineffable design still remains outside time, more modern, more confident, than anything that has come since.

        The main roads south, the routes nationales, were wildly dangerous then. Traffic hurtled along in both directions either side of a common central overtaking lane. Saying a prayer out loud, our chauffeurs pulled into the face of the oncoming traffic, willing it into submission, hoping to dive back in again to their side with a nanosecond in hand. We prayed too, and held our breath; 1 August, the opening of the holidays, was a gigantic national game of chicken.
        You can read the full article at

        Deakin made a couple of radio documentaries entitled "The House" and "The Garden", only the first of which I heard on a BBC Radio 4 repeat broadcast not long after he died. It was utterly captivating, and I searched at the time for "The Garden" without success. Now I've discovered that it's apparently archived here - - but I haven't been able to get the audio file (which is a .ram file) to play on Ace Player, VLC, Windows Media Player or even iTunes. If anyone is able to help me access it to hear it at last (and also listen to "The House" once again), I'd be very grateful!
        Tis but a scratch.


          Annie Dillard, 'Pilgrim at Tinker Creek', makes for some magical reading on nature.
          Last edited by ustix; 1st-June-2015, 10:06.
          Gwan Joe!!


            Been a while since I posted one of these. Enjoy.

            Winged sisters bound through the cool hazy sky

            A choir of birds flew over Clee Liberty. Their voices sharply urgent, excited. Once perched in a tree all facing north, they fell silent. Apart from a bounding flight and ardent voices, their distinguishing marks were dark streaks that fell across their bodies like the shadows reaching across fields from great oaks in the valley below.

            The birds were female linnets, I think, birds that Aristotle could not identify but called Acanthis, after a woman in Greek mythology turned into a bird. Her father’s starving horses attacked and ate her brother Anthus, so Zeus turned the sisters into birds so they would not starve. They could forever feed on seeds of the fields and moors: finch-faced sisters, Acanthis their scientific name.

            Around Nordy Bank, the iron age earthwork ring on Clee Liberty common on the Brown Clee hill, the sky was blue but hazy. A skylark launching himself from the centre of the ring soon vanished from sight even though his exultation could be heard from the other side of the haze above. This gave the feeling of being surrounded by an opaque wall: an enclosed world enclosed.

            The linnets, once collected for singing in cages, did not stay quiet for long. On an agreed signal, all rose together from the young bare oak tree growing on a more recent earthwork made from quarrying on the common more than a hundred years ago. In perfect synchronicity, the sisters bounded through the cool hazy sky, with voices fresh as rain.

            An unkindness of ravens, in twos and threes, left their hunting on Clee Liberty to head west, back to the community of non-breeding ravens on the border. There, in another hillside liberty at Stapeley Common, the wind was blowing strong enough to drown out voices fired up with the coming spring.

            Gradually, flinging themselves into the wind before wheeling back into heather around the Mitchell’s Fold stone circle, two stone-flecked, striding-legged, crook-beaked birds struck up the anthem of the hill country: the curlew song of the soul in all its grief and joy. And then there was hope.
            Tis but a scratch.


              Another one. I'd love to meet the author (Paul Evans).

              A boundary marker, a meeting place, a gallows?

              The oak loomed above other trees in a scrubby corner of the field. Despite claims that it was officially spring, and with no respect for meteorology, calendars or tradition, the great oak seemed to feel as though it was holding on to winter and would not turn until it was good and ready.

              It must have been an important landmark for centuries, visible from all cardinal points, growing on flat pasture close to a spring that issues from the hillside and pours into a wooded ravine to join the brook, which then enters the river Severn. A boundary marker, a meeting place, a preaching tree, a tree for wakes and waits, fairs and festivals, a gallows?

              Far larger than trees in surrounding fields and woods – 20m or more in height, crown breadth the same, girth wider than a span – its longest boughs sweep the ground; an open-grown tree that had known six centuries. It survived because each of its 500 winters fixed its architecture, stopping the annual growth rings in a kind of death.

              I imagine travelling back through the tree’s dendrochronology to its pith: Bloody Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, who tortured and burned Protestants at the stake, gave birth to phantoms and spent much of her youth at nearby Ludlow Castle, was born in February 1516.

              However inviolable the tree appears after all those years, its fame or infamy is forgotten. Now its space is jostled by upstart trees from the hedge concealing an old air-raid shelter and derelict sheds. Although it may look similar, the medieval countryside has all but vanished – as have the people for whom the tree mattered.

              In the modern world, the tree, stuck in a ghostly gesture, is trying vainly to hide like a giant in a playground. Few people see it from any angle now, let alone come to visit and seek some dark thing in its timbers.

              And yet, in the manner of great trees, it is full of life, even in death, and a faint green mist of buds forms around the twigs of its upper boughs.
              Tis but a scratch.


                Last one for now ...

                Crow and the vernal egg

                There is a nervousness about the crow’s swagger. It walks as if it’s concentrating on something else, nothing to do with an egg, never noticed it before. Then it half-hops, half-shimmies a few steps towards it. Head cocked, one eye over its wing to see who else may be watching and the other inspecting the thing as if it ticks, as if it might go off.

                I don’t know how the crow came by the egg, whether it took it from a nest, or another creature did and was either persuaded to relinquish it or just left it there next to some dead stumps for the crow to find. The egg is forlorn, there is no hope for it despite the crow’s edgy circumspection, and it’s already a bit cracked. It has lost the rocking movement of an irregular sphere and, despite its apparent weightlessness, it now looks ill-defined, like crash wreckage.

                Eggs are powerful magic, especially at the vernal equinox, when they are associated with fertility and the Teutonic goddess Oestre, or in Christianity with resurrection at Easter.
                I approach egg mysteries like the crow, with caution. It is hard to imagine any human culture not seeing some kind of symbolism in eggs – spring (in the temperate world), rebirth, life emerging from chaos, fertility, the egg as the world – but unwise to assume it’s all the same. Sumerian graves had eggs in them 5,000 years ago.

                Decorating eggs is art’s way of bringing nature into culture. Eating them is the crow’s way of getting the magic into itself. Without further hesitation the crow breaks and enters the egg with the delicate surgical instrument of its beak. It does not guzzle but pulls a globule of yolk and swallows it as if testing a drug, waiting for something mind-altering to happen.

                Maybe it does, maybe the egg will brighten the blue iridescence of the crow’s wing, make the black of its eye glint brighter than the space station at night. The crow balances on the equal day, equal night thing, eats the vernal egg and takes off, as Ted Hughes wrote, “flying the black flag of himself”.
                Tis but a scratch.


                  Seemingly the lowest tide of the century occurred last Thursday. No, I didn't know about it either.

                  But now I do, thanks to one of my neighbours:

                  He writes well and there are usually some nice photos there too.

                  New infraction avoidance policy: a post may be described as imbecilic, but its author should never be described as an imbecile.


                    It's getting steamy in the hedgerow

                    Cuckoo pint, lords and ladies, Jack-in-the-pulpit – these names are medieval nudges and winks about genitalia and sex. They belong to wild arum, a trick flower that jumps out of the earth with a bawdy country humour that mocks the righteous and revels instead in the rude phwoar! of April. The cruellest month, according to T S Eliot, and maybe we’ll pay for these few glorious sunny days, but we’ll make the most of them until then.

                    It’s getting steamy in the hedgerow. For months, trees stood in companionable silence throughout a blowy winter that leaked into a dour early spring; now they fizz with a green static as buds pop and a million leaves inflate. Hawthorns push their little cheesy shuttlecocks, oaks are in their bronze; blackthorn has been snowing for weeks, and the purple dangles of ash are out. Small birds, skirmishing through disputed branches, travel in song between trees in the neutral air.

                    Still for so long, life bursts everywhere. Two treecreepers spiral adjacent sallows in a double helix. A pair of chiffchaffs uses the wire fence between wood and field to perch on before darting, like children forbidden to cross a line, to snatch creatures from the grass. The wren of woebetide flies from brambles across the path, letting out a burst of song loaded with omens before vanishing again. A bird of augury, it belongs to an old imagination that seeks the secrets hiding in all life.

                    The sawn stump of a storm-felled tree gathers bees to the warmth of its honey-scented timber. Deer move through the new shadows except one, perhaps shot and wounded by a poacher it faded before it could leap the fence to sanctuary and now lies dismantled by scavengers.

                    The green of dog’s mercury and wild garlic fills the eye grown dim with wintry grey. All the violets, wood anemones, primroses, bluebells and celandines spangle a myopia blinking in unfamiliar sunshine. This naughty dance spring does with lords, ladies, cuckoos and Jacks: it can’t be undone whatever the weather.
                    Tis but a scratch.


                      It's wild garlic season. Some great uses such as soup and pesto. Season is short enough so make the most of it.
                      The early bird catches the worm but it's the second mouse that gets the cheese.


                        The last line here is wonderful. By the way, it's worth clicking through to the source articles for some of the accompanying photography.

                        Rooks among the rocks

                        The gatekeeper rook landed on a fence post with the consummate ease of someone who can read the wind and shape themselves into it. At rest, it kept one eye on the shuttlebus emptying tourists like seeds spilling from a pod and the other on Stonehenge, which they had come to see.
                        The rook knew the tourists would not take hold there, they came and went quickly, leaving trails of crumbs, but the stones would last for ever and give nothing. Grey rocks arranged like sails, each with its own character, presence and miniature meadow of lichens “performed” on the plain under a windy sky, dazzling sunshine, anti-clockwise; it looked like a film set.

                        We had never been to Stonehenge before, not avoided it exactly but not been drawn to it either because of its fame and its heritage and its symbolism, which somehow felt mistaken. This was an anti-pilgrimage. For Nancy’s significant birthday we decided to go somewhere significant, somewhere time meant nothing, somewhere mysterious. We were not disappointed that we were not as disappointed as we thought we might be. A feeling of mystery grew from the magnetic field of the stones, up through the ground, down from the sky.

                        The circle dance of tourists unsure how to respond to the enigma of the stones was charming. We were from all over the world, looking, photographing, recording, memory-making together.

                        The rooks, on the other hand, were the stones looking back. They were there before the rocks moved in and their memories had never been taken beyond the orbit of Stonehenge. They drifted across the wind using an odd stretch and tuck motion of wings like a music hall routine. They alighted on sarsens and capstones, stalked through turf; perfected a studied indifference that was a bit disturbing. Eyeball to eyeball, they were more than capable of eating ours, yet there was such vitality and spirit about them.

                        Back on Wenlock Edge I stopped under a rookery in the treetops of a small copse to watch the birds celebrate their significant birthdays. As rooks flew in with grubs for their little baldies, I listened to the banter the next generation would inherit, a language we’ve shared for millennia.
                        Tis but a scratch.


                          Thrushling tests the edges of its hedge-world

                          The thrush in the hedge is only a nipper. It’s supposed to remain concealed, but every now and then it whirrs across the lane to the hedge opposite. There it perches in a thicket of twigs and briars, feigning invisibility, like a child hiding behind coats hung on the back of a door.

                          There may be trouble. Two adult thrushes are flying up and down the lane. It could be the parent birds getting frisky or else one parent seeing off a rival. They are flying literally at breakneck speed; one false move and either of them could be fatally injured. Spring is drunk on daring.

                          The bird in the bush is not Thomas Hardy’s “darkling thrush” that marks the end of something; it is instead a bird of beginnings, an envoy for new life. As is the way with both the very old and very young, it looks unformed, tatty but somehow innocently unbesmirched, and so unlike the sleek, quick, birds tearing around being aggressively adult. The youngster is earning its spots, testing the edges of the hedge-world but keeping out of trouble.

                          So far, so good. On hedge banks a luxurious green reaches upwards into the white flowering pulse: cow parsley, hedge mustard, greater stitchwort and, in the more woodland-like stretches, wild garlic, wood anemone, wood sorrel – all white. This makes the richly purple dead-nettles and the dazzling yellow dandelions more noticeable.

                          The same is true of the thrushling; the more it tries to blend in, the more noticeable it becomes. The bird looks as if it’s made from hedge, which in many ways it is: the colours and patterns, fruits and snails, leaf and twig made flesh, feather and bone.
                          It will soon break into the open, claiming rights to fields and copses, keeping a weather eye out but confidently making its presence felt. If its crazy parents were not still chasing, one of them would be singing this evening: those etched phrases, rhyming with repetition, levitating above the hedge tops, equal parts elegy, incantation, challenge, teaching the watching one.
                          Tis but a scratch.


                            Spring happens all at once, and the woods feel giddy

                            ‘May-time, fair season … blackbirds sing a full song, if there be a scanty beam of day,” sang an unknown Irish poet in what we now call the dark ages. Today, the light through the trees is as green and sour as a gooseberry. A high canopy of ash, latest to leaf and still sparse, lets sunshine and showers through to lower levels a-swamp with leaf; each one a crucible in the alchemy turning light into life.

                            Dark, gnarled trunks of old hawthorns have suddenly become lithe and sinuous, like shadow dancers behind curtains of hazel, on carpets of dog’s mercury, in chambers full of birdsong. When the sun’s out, the birds drawl softly in the heady air; when it rains they hold their breaths; when the rain stops and the labyrinths are rinsed clean, they release their voices, cool and sweet.
                            The woods are steeped in rhythm: light and shade, breath and wing, movement and stillness – all these languages tell commonplace, ordinary, everyday stories of living woods, but in spring it feels so recklessly giddy.

                            The moments of transition are quick. Spring is happening all at once, and all at once it will be gone. Maybe I’m greedy, but the speed of spring, its green dazzle, masks an absence – including that of my dog, who joins the shadows here (and appears in the Spring issue of Common Ground’s Leaf [pdf]). There are not enough birds – not heard a cuckoo in this wood – not enough butterflies. Perhaps this throws the individual, the particular, into relief and gives them greater significance.

                            This blackbird with a beakful of wriggling grubs, this speckled wood butterfly flickering through dappled shade, become clearer in focus, but where are the others? Did they dissolve in this corrosive sunlight to become memories like old leaves sedimented in woodland soil?
                            These questions hover for a moment like gnats in a scanty beam of day and vanish. Blackbirds forage and pause for a moment before singing again, and then the woods have a voice “whose zeal is greater” according to the 14th-century Welsh poet Gruffydd ab Addaf ap Dafydd. We feel it still.
                            Tis but a scratch.


                              This piece was written in even more turbulent times than we're living through now - August 1916.

                              The first sweet scent of harvest

                              Surrey, August 3
                              There is more straw to the wheat and oats on the later lands toward our southern border than appeared a fortnight ago to be possible. The crop has shot upward as it ripened; a narrow path that runs through one wheatfield is now walled almost breast-high, and the growth is so strong that the light breeze sings through the long yellowing stalks without perceptibly bending them. A piece of oats is cut, and brings with it the first sweet scent of harvest. Some young rabbits, playing a little away from their burrow this morning, found more space to scamper in, and a host of sparrows was at work among the laid corn. We have had little dew; the nights have been almost as warm as the days.

                              Swallows and martins, which had begun to pack, are as busy, each in his own way, as in the earlier summer days, for at evening small winged insects swarm nearly everywhere, but mostly in the hot, low lanes, where the nut bushes droop under the sun, and the flowers dropping from the brambles reveal a promise of much fruit. On the roadsides the mountain ash is hung thickly with berries already red ripe; there is full colour now on the heaths, yellow and cream, and even more down by the side of the stream, where the loosestrife is in the best of its bloom. Many common plants have seeded; the finches were flitting in and out this evening, dropping a wing feather now and then, and one chaffinch, playing in the white dust of a chalk road, was quite disposed to make friends.
                              Tis but a scratch.