June

Most mornings, no matter the frown of cloud above, I manage to execute what I think to be a finely honed routine of creeping down stairs, avoiding the ones that chatter back, quietly grabbing some (any) wellies, perhaps a coat if there’s one en route, and then making my way through the kitchen and out of the back door.

Just recently I’ve realised that throughout out this assault course my stomach is clenched and my heart tight. God knows why. It’s not as if anyone’s going to ambush me as I reach for the ‘handle to freedom’. Perhaps it’s born of times when the children were very young, and those same griping stairs would be enough to trigger a dominoes of restless calls along the corridor. (And now of course, I’d love nothing more than one of these teenagers to wake and join me in stealth mode as I slip out into the early light.)

Living on the edge of a field that remains pretty much untouched except for topping in late summer means that I have the undeniable luxury of being able to enjoy each subtle seasonal shift as it plays out over every dip and rise of this small patch of countryside. It’s banked on the east side by the tightly entwined arms of ancient hornbeam, holly and hazel, held in check along the south edge by an old mill pond and the west side is cosseted by ancient woodland that once held the title of Brooker’s Rough.

Today as I step out of the kitchen door I’m wearing my husband’s dressing gown, and my daughter’s old wellies (first gently shaken to encourage the exit of any overnight prisoners… beetles, spiders, the occasional wasp).

Last night, as the sky flooded to indigo the song thrush filled his chest and let fly his now regular soliloquy from his leafy perch in the old oak. This morning however, it’s the wren’s turn. He usually clears his throat at around 4.30 and by 5 he’s into his stride, and melting my heart regardless of the tiredness from such an early rise.

Down through the field, lifting the hem of the dressing gown, but not quite high enough; the grasses have grown and each spear is loaded with dew.

The islands of yellow rattle have spread and shifted from their original anchorages of last year. They’re beginning to bloom yellow plumes, like miniature cockatoos perched and peering out from the rigging of a mast. Red, striped, white and a shy ramble of suckling clover are now filling in the stubby areas where the grasses haven’t managed to quite take hold. These colourful pompoms tend to flourish where the deer like to feed, also happily sprawling their Pollock-ish palette where we’ve mown a path to the veg plot.

Hitching up the dressing gown and tying a wholly nameless knot, I strike out into the ocean of green.

It’s a little early in the year for the grasshoppers, so there’s no one jumping into my wellies as I weave my way down through the tall grasses that whisper against thighs and tickle at outstretched palms. The Spiders are here though…. this early, trampolines are loaded with water droplets, the occasional husk of a fly, but not food. Others have woven dark little shafts amid a tightly woven blanket of web, and just my footfall sends these funnel weavers into a frantic gallop across their taut sheet in the hope of breakfast.

I’m running a mental tick list as I tromp, now wet legged…

Yellow Archangel

Orange Hawkhead (very much love this fiery-faced beauty)

Common Spotted Orchid

Rough Comfrey

Birdsfoot Trefoil

Meadow Buttercup

Soft red spears of young Sorrel

Overhead the quiet air is sliced by the keening cry of a buzzard that for the last 12 years has made this his home and together with his mate, has successfully reared a new generation almost every year. She will be sitting on their clutch right now, though in a thoroughly modern way these two will share parental duties.  A couple of days ago this buzzard received quite a dressing down from two rather rattled crows. Crows will defend any perceived threat with apparently little regard for personal safety, but buzzards are unlikely to fight back mid-air, preferring to dip and dodge the airborne assault. So the sweary acrobatics ended as quickly as they started with the buzzard ducking out and heading back to his nest.

The light blue puddles of common field speedwell are still very present, very welcome, and as I make my way towards the guard of silver birch that edge the forest I can see pale mauve splashes of wood speedwell spilling out from their shady earthen beds.

It seems just yesterday that this forest was a carpet of fragrant blue, and yet its now completely engulfed in an ocean of breast high bracken. And it’s humming! The horseflies are back. There are very few creatures on this earth that I struggle to admire, even if I don’t like them. Horseflies fall into this category. I’m sure if I googled them I would find something to admire them for. But I’m pretty certain that the silent, stealthy, weightless bite of a horsefly would overshadow any perceived wonderment and appreciation of such a relentless and opportunistic diner.

I increase my pace, flapping my arms rather uselessly, wishing I had a few more appendages, with laser guns! trotting up through a narrow path banked by sandstone and outcrops of wild and flowering rhododendron, I reach peak ‘windmill’ and run through the overgrown glade of yet more bracken to the safety of my studio.

I’m home now and I’ve made coffee. I’m also trying to find that tube of savlon to rub on the red and rising bites.

A few weeks ago, my mother mentioned a book that she swears she gave me a long while back when my grandfather died. But I had no recollection of having it.

I’ve just found it. It’s a 1965 edition of The Concise British Flora in Colour, by The Rev. William Keble Martin.

Its pages are foxed and much yellowed and there are many varieties of flowers I know to be missing. But the illustrations by Keble Martin are beautiful. They’re botanical, honest and clear. But all are carefully portrayed with a genuine love and enthusiasm for his subject, and as such they are radiant. Among these pages I’ve found scraps of paper with notes written by the hand of my grandfather… plants found, dates of discovery, the telephone number for Kew Gardens.

A pressed meadow buttercup greeted me from plate 3, and I found a common spotted orchid slightly stranded among the geraniums of plate 19.

I’d somehow forgotten that my grandfather, as well as often being surly, incredibly capricious and contrary, was at his core deeply in love with nature.

I’m holding this book and I’m feeling quite tearful… I’m glad I found it, and I’m grateful to have at least bit of that difficult old bugger near by. And on a practical level, I can honestly say that navigating this particular book is a lot easier and infinitely more pleasurable that trying to google everything.

Long live the paper book.