The sun glowed a bleary-eyed orange, filtered by the merest early morning haze, as it opened a baleful eye and lit the landscape with a Martian glow. The air felt thick enough to touch and even at this early hour there was a pleasant warmth lapping over my face like wavelets on a pond.
Spring, so long anticipated during the iron hard cruelty of winter, was exhaling its final breaths. These last days of May were slipping away, borne on the easterly wind which was anxious to usher in June, that month of cricket matches on village greens and ripening crops in the field. A wind that had already blown out the burned down stubs of the Horse Chestnut candles that had hung in splendid brevity. Their passing was yet another sign of the constantly changing canvas of the natural world. The pre-ordained calendar of our spinning planet is immutable despite our best efforts to master and dominate it.
Already exotic new candles are being lit in the greened countryside. The enigmas that are orchids are beginning to be noticed. The exotic purple cascades of the flowers of Common Spotted Orchids will soon capture our attention with their winsome delicate beauty. If we are lucky we will find exotica such as Pyramidal Orchids and Bee Orchids.
The familiar fields that I walk so often had, today, thin streamers of migrating dust, curling around themselves like fawn DNA helixes as they were carried off on the persistence of the wind, building microscopic dunes in the process. In the far corner of one field four young Brown Hares sat in close company like ships at anchor, weathering a storm.
Much closer to me, a solitary older animal, like a craggy glacial erratic, hunched in the lee of a hedge bank, and regarded me with those golden eyes that so resembled this morning’s rising sun. Its long ovoid head exuded contentment but behind that passive demeanour was the eternal watchfulness that is the curse of prey species.
I passed the brewery and the air was full of House Martins, buoyed up on the dense atmosphere, which allowed them to soar then dive like darts, only to rise up again as if fired from a gun. The now yellowing sun lit their white chins and made their dark blue cloaks and hats glossy.
Every so often they would swoop down to a patch of drying mud and waddle on their stubby legs to fill their bills with dried grass and globules of mud and fly back up to the eaves where they were building their exquisite mud closed cup nests.
Higher in the glowing skies were the familiar black scythe wing silhouettes of summer: Swifts. It looked as if someone had cut bird shapes holes in the sky and created a bizarre animation. They careened across the blue backdrop, now and again swooping low, screaming like banshees.
Their true colours became apparent at close quarters. Gone was the inky blackness of deep space, replaced by a sooty brown, the colour of a dusty old academic’s suit. Beneath their tiny chins was a flash of beige beneath that tiniest point of a bill. Their eyes glowed black from that brown head, barely revealed.
They roared from ground level to become black dots again, as if they could disregard the laws of gravity at will, and then they levelled out and their wings flickered quickly as they hoovered up insects as if they were some kind of aerial plankton.
The endless toil that befalls parent birds sent House Sparrows from beneath the ancient eaves of the brewery shop into the green bower overhanging the pond on an endless quest for insects to feed the hungry mouths waiting in the unseen haystacks that serve as their nests. I wondered how many generations of those little birds, plain and austere in their brown, black and grey clothing yet as beautiful as Bee Eaters in their understated way, had been using that site. Once ubiquitous, as common as Cockneys in London, their numbers have tumbled catastrophically in the last forty years, by as much as seventy percent, yet here they have bucked the trend and announce their presence with their joyful little songs.
Goldfinches, in a reversal of fortune compared to the Sparrows, upwardly mobile in the population stakes, shared the same bushes, in the same endless quest, and their liquid song tumbled and bubbled through the air. I remember a time when I rarely saw these exquisite little birds and now they are frequent garden visitors.
The pond, littered with the unravelling seed heads of Reedmace, had come back to life after the fallow winter. As I passed it back then it looked nothing less than the shell sodden, tree shattered landscape of the Somme one hundred years ago. All thing must pass and now a tiny green mosaic of Duckweed carpeted the obscured water teeming with hidden life. These tiny, simple plants, have no leaves or stems and their fronds are as thin as cigarette papers yet contain miniscule air pockets to keep them afloat. They are a superfood for wildfowl and in some countries for humans too. Mostly unregarded, they contain more protein than soya beans. One genus of these remarkable plants, a New Zealander no less, is also the smallest flowering plant on the planet. Its flowers are like specks of dust.
I turned to retrace my steps. My journey was over for today and reluctantly I left May behind me for another year, without a backward glance as I looked forward to the dog days of summer to come and the time of the Dragonflies.