As I walked out on the last day of the year, I noticed the hazel bushes. Some were already shaking their tails, but others were still not quite ready to open up, biding their time.
This was plucked from a bush beside a ditch – a running ditch after all the recent rain. The vase came from a ditch as well, one running beside a windmill next to a canal in Belgium where we had a cycling holiday on February. It reminds me of Victorian school ink bottles, but since the top is broken, all we know is that the miller cast it in the ditch, to be treasured many years later by a family of foreigners. It suits a single stem very well.
Walking up to Church this morning we saw the first tips of pussy willow and of course the hazel was bright in the hedgerow, lambs’ tails shaking themselves out before the real lambs are allowed in the fresh air – but that won’t be long now!
As Father Boniface pronounced, basking in the sun, ‘I think we can say that Spring is here! They’re silent now – it was 11.30 – but this morning they were in full throat!’
I’ve not heard that expression for a while. Enjoy the Spring!
When T attacks his overgrown garden – neglected for years before he and K moved in this month – he’s a human bulldozer, while his father-in-law looks, identifies, wonders what to do with this or that. Hence I came home with two Kentish cob or hazel seedlings. The parent bush is many-stemmed and stands on the North side of the garden, a good six metres high. It also stands on the South side of next-door neighbour Ivy’s garden, blocking her share of sunshine.
A Winter’s job, coppicing the tree; today’s task was to rescue a couple of squirrel or woodmouse-planted seedlings and bring them back to be nurtured. And then rehomed. Nowhere around here is free of squirrels though, so the prospect of ever tasting a nut is infinitesimal. I’m sure I’ll think of somewhere. Perhaps one of them will serve as a singing post for blackbird generations yet to come, as the parent tree was doing this afternoon.
Riding due East into Aylesham my expectations were somewhat confounded. I had expected the gale to be on my back, but it was on my left shoulder, pushing me towards the middle of the road. There was noticeable relief when there was a hedge on the North side of the road, so it was encouraging to see new hawthorn slips bursting green from their rabbit-proof planting tubes. Relief for cyclists and protection for the land. The soil up here is quite thin over the chalk.
More relief when I branched off on the Southern road into the village. The Spinney shields most of this stretch, a woodland with beech, hazel and sweet chestnut. I stopped to sit on a branch and eat lunch. The bluebells are in fine leaf, as are wild arum and anemones, but what of wild garlic? I hadn’t long to search, I had an appointment in the village and I wasted time watching a brimstone butterfly, happy enough to be out of the wind, under the trees, enjoying the sunshine beaming through the bare branches. I found just one leaf, which I nobly left to grow. And I was happy too.
Let’s change that ‘I wasted time’ to ‘I spent time’, while I was watching the butterfly. Time well-spent!
Spring felt a long way off when I was waiting on Aylesham station with the cold wind sweeping across the field. But down at ground level, among the discarded beer cans and sweet wrappers, peeping from under heart-shaped leaves, a few violets, out of range of fingers or lens.
Nearer home, crossing the old Franciscan orchard, the hazel catkins were reflecting back the gold of the setting sun. On Abbot’s Hill the woodpecker was out of sight but well within earshot, drumming hard enough to give himself a headache but perhaps he’ll charm a hen. Valentine’s Day is said to be the birds’ wedding day. He’s getting into practice!
If you want to catch a playful dog, like our new friend Melba, it’s as well to pretend you are not interested in doing any such thing. The rabbits on Abbot’s Hill can tell when Melba is up for the chase and soon make themselves scarce. Wild birds will disappear if they feel something is watching them, hence the joy of a cold hide on the edge of a winter’s lake.
In the Nineteenth Century Richard Jefferies put it this way:
This is the secret of observation: stillness, silence, and apparent indifference. In some instinctive way these wild creatures learn to distinguish when one is or is not intent upon them in a spirit of enmity; and if very near, it is always the eye they watch. So long as you observe them, as it were, from the corner of the eyeball, sideways, or look over their heads at something beyond, it is well.
(from The Gamekeeper at Home, available at Project Gutenberg)
This evening’s encounter was fleeting. I was walking past the hazel bush on our street (yes, the squirrels did get all the nuts) when I heard a quiet, musical squeaking. Not from my boots, but at ear level; something on the railway? No, a young cock blackbird, his feathers very dark but not quite black, his beak still a muddy chocolate brown. I don’t suppose he was trying his sub-song out on me, but I felt privileged to hear it for a few seconds as I continued walking so as not to disturb him.
Let’s hope he finds a mate to appreciate his full-throated song, come the Spring.