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.

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Peregrine Lessons

Misty and quiet. Nothing seemingly. White grey cloud muffles, the breeze does little to stir the scene. The woods are a spectacular tangle of leafless branches, but the lift and the soar is lacking. It feels like nothing is happening. We go through the motions: take up station opposite the nest site under Yat Rock…the minutes drift; the moment drags; we used up our luck almost exactly a year ago at the same spot in a phrase lifted from J.A.Baker on ‘A day made absolute’ – floating, shining spider trails, moments of total peace and a final drama: ‘Then from the north along the ridge a tiercel appears, wings flicking rhythmically against the breeze. Purposeful. I have him in my binoculars as he overturns the smooth slope, the wings close, the speed slides upward, effortlessly. For a moment he becomes like the falling heart and it lasts and lasts (and now I replay and replay it in my mind) until the trees flash past – impossibly long seconds – certain disaster, then a flick and the moment is broken; the plunging ace flickers off like a bat and I lose him amongst the trees. A wordless exclamation comes through me like a bursting bubble.’ Unrepeatable I have no faith that last year’s lesson can be repeated or that I will be allowed to learn anything new.

Then a drawn out, wheezing call comes clear across the silence; it is joined by another and suddenly we are all looking. The lesson soars. A pigeon drifts laterally and morphs into the form we all seek. It is confirmed in a babble of excited voices as reflexed wingtips fling an arc across the white sky. The confidence of the bird swells the moment: a consummation for the first-timers. They have heard the words for weeks; now they can feel it for themselves as the portal opens briefly. Inactivity again, like the backwash of a wave. Stillness seaps with the cold before a flat glide rolls into a smooth sweep. Speed climbs. Like a hurled flat throw a hawk heads directly for the rock, it is impossibly, heart-stoppingly close before a nonchalant flick and a deadstop on the ledge. Again. Like last year.

I stare up at the rockface, and the ageless white statue of the peregrine. He has watched me come and he will watch me leave. and I learn, in a swift rush of understanding, that it will always be that way around. Foolishly I want him to end it, to fly away, to disappear and release me, but it is me that takes my leave.

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Wet Saturday

It is the waiting around as the morning progresses that tugs at me: a gnawing frustration. A non-happening. The rain outside is all-pervasive, unwelcoming; I want to get out into it, to shake off the warmth of the house and the stiffness of inaction and engage with the wetness and vitality of water-charged air. February weighs heavy; the morning drips and pools. I look inward until I can get out: chores,tidying, looking after . . . a feigned neutrality. . . what needs to be done.

The Spring at Malvern-Midday : there is mist up here and no view. The air is cool in the nostrils and sharp; it cuts away the torpor, refreshes; no wind, but swell and drift – a vital, tangible thing. Drips hang off every tip; branches are bare; the birches haze purple. There is a palpable sense of expectation. Snowdrops gather together in humble corners; demure, but strong-unshowy outriders.

The well runs clear and steady, the moss shines impossibly in the dim misty light; bubbles, smooth convolutions, a pouring through of energy rather than a pouring away. The whole process revolves, a bigger wheel turning through, but somehow beyond our narrowed view. Water, light and sound stream through me. I stand and watch, feeling it somehow, but failing to connect – a shadow of what the heart demands.

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