An hour of observation (nature writing class challenge 2 June 2023)
Blue sky: the first all week. There’s still a northerly breeze, but I’m sheltered here by the fence under the chestnut tree, with a wall of cow parsley in the field behind. Flower candles above, froth behind, hawthorn nearby: more white flowers than a high-class wedding. All should be redolent with the heady scent of early summer, but currently the smell of elderly ewe is more pervasive.
Baby Badge, aged seventeen, has lately taken up residence along this fence. I had meant to sit closer to her, but she is comfortable in the shade and I need sun. She’s about 20 yards away, tail towards me, but also watching: the long pupils in her ovine eyes give her 340 degree vision.
The sheep have worn away the grass along the fence and around the gate. It’s a favourite spot: high vantage, catches the breeze and cool shade on the bare patches they have made under the trees. Most summer mornings they are grouped peacefully there: eight ewes, twelve lambs, a wether and a ram.
The rest of the flock are approaching to see what I’m up to, curious. The boldest three ewes come within about ten yards, led by Pandora, nose a-sniff for sheep nuts.
They turn away and fan out to graze. The buttercups are fading – a week ago the whole field was yellow. This is not a sign of good pasture.
A single black lamb bleats. They are much less vocal now. A month or two ago there would have been a chorus: high-pitched lambs, rumbling ewe replies.
What else, then, apart from sheep? A horse calls from the neighbour’s barn: they want to go out now. Other sounds: wind in the leaves, some flies buzzing.
Goldfinch flights swooping to the chestnuts, but from where?
Baby Badge levers herself up, slowly. Hind legs first, effortfully. Front leg cautious. She moves like a broken wooden toy. Pauses by the gatepost for a little scratch and eyes me.
I write some notes, remembering her arrival as our first ever lamb. She is a Shetland, ‘katmoget’ in marking, which means a brown mottled face, belly and legs, and creamy fleece.
Time to look further, and listen. A lark, drowned out by a small aircraft. Oh, hang, on, the cheeky wee things – two lambs are using the carefully-built rabbit netting to reach through and nibble at the tops of my precious new hedge.
Directly in my line of vision is a 20-year old oak, her branches finally in full sail (dead heat with the ash this year, what does that mean?). Ruefully remember planting a tree for each child. Never plant a tree for each child, unless you can keep them all thriving. This one is a replacement oak for Harry’s after some escaped cattle went on a mad Viking rampage.
At last I spot the lark, travelling over to the next door field, currently a riot of flowers. Within weeks all will be bagged up into black plastic, field scalped raw in one afternoon.
The two naughty lambs are now enjoying a rub against the gate. Baby B is busy munching, with Black Specs nearby. It seems the other ewes are taking turns not to leave her alone.
A buzz above. I look up into a weighty salad of green leaves, interlapping, green light and green shadows.
I follow the flight of a loud bee into the blue. Is it a bumble? Such speed in flight.
The horses are out now and necking happily, tails swishing. Gnats dance, a flock of tiny white ones wobbling at eye height.
Look down. A tiny green caterpillar, the length of my fingernail, is contorting itself to move from grass stem to stem, curling into a ball then propelling itself straight, head end blindly wiggling.
What is that chattering behind? My BirdUp app is silent on the matter. Too much background noise, cars, overhead planes, dogs over the road.
A Red Kite soars over Sarsden Wood. The chattering behind gets louder and angrier. Ah magpies, of course. George, and Mrs George, emerge from the cow parsley forest and sit arguing indignantly on the fence by the gate.
Fox! It emerges silently behind them, out from the corner hedge into the field. Moves carefully, stops, turns to look at me. It – now he – cocks his leg briefly on the fence post and trots quietly on, unfortunately for him accompanied by a motley magpie crew shrieking abuse. That’s what all their fuss was about. They follow the fox until he pops through to my neighbour’s garden, then continue furiously upbraiding him from the far fence.
Pandora is munching her way towards me, savagely biting off buttercup heads, one ear flapping the flies away.
Something hops off the hedge fence into the grass and back on again: thrush. It preens briefly then flies straight back to the garden.
I get up and start to walk back, past Baby Badge, who is absorbed in her grazing until I try to take her picture. She stops mid-chew and watches me mildly, indulgently. The magpies are still distantly fussing.
© Laura Parker