I left home in the early morning, before sunrise. The relatively cool breeze was as a gentle slap on my face. Illuminated in my headlight, mist swirled in the road in the manner of ink dropped into a gently stirred jar of water. Beyond the hedge, in the half light, a bank of mist rose over the pasture like some giant frozen wave of cotton wool.
As I rode up the hill the sky turned pale blue but modestly hid behind a thin scum of cloud which was beginning to glow with pink luminosity as the sun began its inexorable rise. The temperature had already begun to elevate the mercury by a few millimetres. As I passed the entrance to a parched field I was reminded of the apocalyptic stories and films that I enjoyed as a child. The Day The Earth Caught Fire seemed particularly appropriate today. The parched ground which supported stunted golden wheat was covered by a network of cracks and fissures resembling arteries, veins and their associated capillaries. The exhaled heat and the wind caused a fine veil of dust to hover.
A hare sat on a patch of earth with hardly growing vegetation at the edge of a field . It looked bewildered and regarded me with zombie eyes, making no attempt to run for cover as I cycled past it. The rising sun was veiled by the low-lying mist and resembled a photograph of a retina, a transparent deep red, which changed to gold as it climbed higher, lighting the fallen stalks of recently mown wheat in the next field I passed like a lion’s mane.
The verges were washed out by the lack of rainfall and the constant sunshine had stolen the green of a few weeks ago. Even a cock pheasant appeared to have dressed down his plumage. The rich burnished bronze layered with gold leaf had had their tones sucked out by the bleaching intensity of the sunlight of the great heat. Many fields of cereals had ripened earlier than usual this summer and the short even stumps of their harvest amputation burned an intense yellow. Scattered around one field, like the playthings of a giant who had grown bored with his game, were piles of oblong hay bales. There was also something almost archaeological about their regular placing. I was reminded of the fields of menhirs, the Carnac stones of Brittany, although the bales lacked the hand-hewn irregularity and the more neutral colours.
At the top of the hill something small, dark and almost ovoid flew across the lane, low and direct, from the nearest tree to a short avenue of Sycamore, disappearing completely in the density of the waving sea of foliage. I rounded the corner and at the highest point of a dead branch, emerging like a skeletal arm from an Oak, was the Yang of the earlier Ying. It was a Little Owl. The early morning blaze picked out its white flecked brown plumage and inflamed its golden yellow eyes, which simmered beneath white beetling brows. I reached for my camera, and in that instant, it disappeared, without a sound, as if it had never been there.
The growing heat further dessicated the tall roadside vegetation. Cow Parsley, so recently all bobbing white flower heads on vivid green stems, now stood parched and brown, black seeds tumbling onto the barren earth.
Yorkshire Fog, almost purple in May and early June, was like weather beaten Tibetan prayer flags, swaying in the breeze.
Dull red, Goosefoots had prematurely matured and gone over. Their diffuse humps like rusty clumps of scrap metal. Somewhere nearby the insistent squeaky call of a Yellowhammer was the perfect soundtrack . “A little bit of bread and no cheese” say some but to me it sounded like the grating of a rusting wind pump as it turned slowly. It triggered thoughts of western films where desperadoes waited by lines that stretched to the horizon in both directions for a train.
Around the verges butterflies abounded. They were mostly Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers. Their slow, measured flight from plant to plant was on wings so coloured that they were nothing more than mirrors of their surroundings, albeit with the odd marking, as piercing as a small black watchful eye.
Just occasionally a flash of colour appeared as a Peacock, Red Admiral or Painted Lady materialised briefly before moving on. Their wingbeats and flight were more direct and powerful.
I picked up the quietest sound, which reminded me of a sail slapped by a gust of wind in the far distance, as the wings of dragonflies rubbed dryly upon each other as they hurtled past my head, to and fro. They were Hawkers, but I could not identify the species as they flew, backlit by the sun.
There was a sense of defeat in this Savannah-like countryside, as if this usually vibrant green world was dying little by little. Recently harvested pea fields were congregated with small flocks of Wood Pigeons. They preserved their lilac, grey and white plumage but their pin like eyes were haunted by the crush of the intense heat so close to the ground. Needs must, they endured it as they sought out sustenance.
Salvation lies ahead. There is talk of storms and rain to come in the next few days. This land is gasping breathlessly for a return to order, to the ordinary consensual weather we have come to expect. Later in the day, in the west, distant on the late afternoon horizon, I see thunderheads forming, translucent, hanging like formless jellyfish. They drink greedily of the water vapour in the atmosphere and as hot and cold air rub together like sticks the small electric charges begin to flicker. The big to do is on its way. This small part of the wider world holds its breath and waits impatiently for a night of shock and awe to begin.