On Walking: Sunday 22nd March

I’m sitting on the fallen oak, the sun on my face. I’m protected here from the wind, a bare-twigged hedge of elder and hawthorn rears high behind me.

From here I can see the line of the Sor Brook, with its alders. One of my favourite oaks is in the middle of the line. I can’t see them from here, but I know that below the oak are the long blue spears of nascent daffodil bulbs, in amongst the Herb Robert. There are no flowers yet, but they will come.

My legs are hot and I’m sleepy from getting up early to write. It has been an endlessly grey week, filled with self-doubt and cold bones, deleted paragraphs and stunted scenes. But now the blackness has dissipated, dissolved, despite my Prosecco head.

My finger nails are dirty from digging. Earlier, I moved my fruit bushes, tackled my middle veg bed. I worked steadily, methodically, turning the earth, twitching free the weeds.

Now, on my oak, I blink slowly. There are midges in a cloud to my left, each a tiny conductor for a silent bug symphony. I can hear the faint cry of sheep, the frantic snuffle-pause-pounce of Pants voling. Dora is by the side of me, leaning against my thigh. Her ears twitch, ready to dive in and snatch Pants’ prize.

There are a pair of bonking woodpigeons, flapping frantically in the next oak down. A kite browses the land further down the valley, but the pigeons are oblivious to everything but the demands of hot blood, Spring sun. I look down the hill, along the line of the margin on which I’m sat. Above the bleached debris of last summer is the faintest shimmer of heat haze.

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend about mindful happiness, and how difficult she believed it was to achieve. She tells me that I must fight to define the moment; cup it, keep it, as if it’s something wild, unpredictable and must, above all else, be controlled.

I think she’s wrong. I lean back on the oak in Dave’s field-below-the dryer, tip up my chin, close my eyes. My t-shirt has risen up, and I feel the cool air on my skin. I imagine my pale sickle of winter-weight belly, secretly snaffling sun-light. I breathe in, breathe out.

Here is happiness. Right here. Right now.

March 22

 

 

On Plants: Love A Bit Of Lichen. Jan 2014

I have developed an interest in lichen. They’re so neat and small, and so deliberate in their growth – delicious, ancient, self-contained little entities. They please me so much.

According to Wiki, lichen are a symbiotic relationship of algae and fungus – a mixture of both together. They grow where other plants can’t, and people once sent some lichen into space, opened up its capsule, waved it around for a while, then brought it back to Earth. The lichen hadn’t changed one bit.

Such is my interest, that today the beasties and I are walking the same route as yesterday (which normally we loathe doing), just to take a photograph of the incredible lichen we found on the stile leading to Emma’s Meadow.

Lichen in Emma's Meadow, Horley, Oxfordshire Jan 2014

It’s a raw sort of day, and I’m wearing my gloves and hat, my coat zipped up to my nose. Bits of rain keep being spat at us, as if from simmering clouds, and I’m walking quickly to keep warm. As we set out across the cricket field, a whole cloud of wood pigeon suddenly swoop down from the oaks near the road, sending Pants loopy. He so wishes he could fly.

I’m too cold to plant daffodils today, so I just launch them into the hedge, and hope for the best.

We go quick-march across Dave’s fields – all of the flood water has gone now, and the Sor is back to its amiable, quiet self. We reach the stile, and I get close up to the lichen I’ve been thinking about. I want to get a marker pen to draw its boundaries, so I can see how much it grows, but I think that might freak out other dog walkers.

We set off round the left to circle the meadow, and I’m deep in contemplation of another load of lichen – this time on a branch of something I (frustratingly) can’t identify. It has more orange and warmer yellows than the one on the stile, and I wonder if that’s a product of environment, positioning or type of lichen.

Lichen in Emma's Meadow, Oxfordshire Jan 2014

I’m just photographing a cow pat with red dots (what? What are these?!) when Pants bristles and backs into my legs. I look up to see Noel opposite, with Lily, his greyhound, and Cissy, his lurcher. Both are a beautiful soft fawn colour – like canine Palominos – and incredibly fast. Pants is terrified of Cissy.

I wave to Noel and catch Dora, so she doesn’t become a snackette, and cross the meadow to say hello. About half way across, Pants loses his nerve and legs it, Cissy and Lily in lightening pursuit. He heads for the bottom stile and hurdles it – I’m too helpless with laughter to call him back. He’s such a naughty bully to Dora (who never complains), that I can’t help but think it’s good for him to be taken down a peg or two.

Cissy and Lily come back to Noel, but Pants has decided to go home, and has made a break for it to the Lichen Stile. He’s barking now, the way he does when he wants to come in from the garden and we’ve told him to be quiet. I decide to ignore him, and regale Noel with my lichen hunt.

‘They could survive on Mars,’ I say. ‘And you can eat them – but not the more yellow ones. They’re toxic.’

He listens politely, but I don’t feel I’ve managed to ignite a shared passion.

‘Must get on,’ says Noel.

I wave and go with Dora; Pants is still caterwauling over on the stile. Cissy and Lily have gone off with Noel, and eventually, Pants crosses the stile and heads towards Dora and me. About half way, Cissy appears like a blonde bullet, and poor old Pants jumps in the air and heads for the hedge. Cissy doesn’t go near him, just executes an easy loop, looking at him with scorn. He squishes himself to the ground in supplication and Cissy goes off, laughing.

‘Come on,’I say, as he slinks towards me. ‘Heel. I’ve lichen to seek.’

Lichen by the school bus stop. I examine it every day - last year it was a lot more lacy.
Lichen by the school bus stop. I examine it every day – last year it was a lot more lacy.