Contested Ground

I escape for an hour, pad along the roads, climb the gate and soak up the feeling of release. On the threshold. The fields that I run through breathe an air that is always flushed through, it has become a daily infusion. At this gate I always pause, before the crossing over. In May I gaze at buttercups that stand unfeasibly tall, their yellowness is a shout: intense, metallic, utterly without guile. In every month these fields offer a sanctuary. Cliche or not, I cherish the space.

I pause before I enter, as I have for years, then I vault the gate and all is motion: round the hedgeline, past the place where the deer often lie in the sun, past the old oak where for a few weeks I tried to get to know a little owl (he flew clear away every time; just once he let me follow him to another tree and watch as he hopped in rage from foot to foot, staring furiously – the last time I saw him). I pass the old gate where, brimful, I once put my head into a festival of blackthorn blossom; and along to the point where I see my fox, his silent, over the shoulder glance, from the middle of a frozen pond, on an iron hard day in December, is a fixed image amongst the sliding patterns of my thoughts. This has become my landscape, ground where I can breathe. It is special and private.

The angry farmer striding towards me is a deep shock. My weary attempts to reason, to appeal to a kindred inheritance, some notion about landscape and my own place within it are futile. I have no connection with this ‘landowner’ and no way to connect: total separation. I leave. Dismayed. And I won’t return. This gentle place would not function if I was forced to be furtive, to look over my shoulder – I could never pass guiltily through these fields.

So now I have a new run: it is longer, new fields…

But this time there are footpaths, I am ‘allowed’ to be here. Already it feels different: the footpath – barely a line – makes a big impression: it is secluded, but not private. I disturb a deer on the curve of a long hedgeline: a racket of noise, and a form bounds and dips across a wide field. He stops, sooner than I expect, and stares, magnificently. He is motionless. I am the same. I marvel – he stares. We contest the moment in a public place that he doesn’t comprehend or register. The seconds drift; he gives up a bit more ground – luscious slow motion bounds – before turning to see what my move will be. I have no other agenda; content to stare, I stand my ground. So he drops his shoulder and leaves…and I wonder if he will return. Is he dismayed also? Does he feel that this is now a place to which he can’t return?…I put my hand on the gently flattened grasses where he had been catching the last warmth of the sun – my space now. And somehow the lesser for it.


About ThePeregrineFiles

Enthusiast. Father of five, Deputy Head, Academic, ex Head of English, writer, grower of old-fashioned roses, wild swimmer. Exploring convergences of place and moment in my writing; constantly fascinated by the way that a particular place at a particular time creates its own unique resonance.
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One Response to Contested Ground

  1. justin says:

    You might be interested in Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land is your Land’- especially some of the verses he added later about rights of access..

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