Thousands of meadow brown butterflies have been tending Arthurs hay. While it was standing they escorted the dogs and me around the edge of the field. One or two hundred butterflies accompanied us on our morning stroll. We began to think of them as our escort, our personal air borne…
We’re standing on a bank, on a bend in the Little Ouse, it’s the highest point for miles around. There is a strong south west wind blowing and we are in the eye of a storm of swifts. More swifts than I’ve ever seen before, slicing the turbulent air into splinters around my head. Wing…
The hay field in early June is mesmerizing. Five acres of green space used by boys, for football, and by lurchers, as a race track in the winter, has become one living thing. Millions of individual plants unite in their common aim, to produce seed. Shivering and sighing at night, bejewelled and trembling in the early morning. It rolls pollen with the wind and reflects the sun’s own image in buttercups. In the evening it wears a soft rosy halo, still glowing after the sun sinks behind the wood.
The lanky plantains hold their black heads sideways, nodding, until suddenly they all come in to flower at once and the field seems to be flying. Sheeps sorrel, as mellow as old brickwork and as sharp as limes, reaching, reaching up. Each plant adds a layer of colour and texture, affecting the movement and look of the whole. And each year, as the nitrogen levels drop, new plants find a convivial home here. This years new arrival is a pink vetch, it’s regular pairs of leaflets and curled tendrils break up the verticals. A glimpse of it’s strong pink flower is thrilling.
But sink down into the depths, below the flowers, feel the spider tickle it’s way across your arm, feel the breeze gently push the stems around you. Loose count of the different types of bees, busy above your head. Watch the ants move up and down the ox eye daisies. Hear the cuckoo. See the perfect spring clouds drift through the clear pale sky and know, simply, how lucky you are.
This place is a happy co-incidence of steep rock briefly relaxing into undulation and a row of sycamores sheltering on a half moon within a sinuous U . The perfectly round oak tree at the top of the bank is a full stop, a completion of the curve.
This ash tree is dead. One of the many here in Norfolk that have been infected by chalarafraxinea. Drawing it I feel like a pathologist as I notice it’s old injures. Twenty years ago, or so, it lost one half of it’s crowns in a storm, the strong new growth from the trunk on the left could only have been produced by a healthy tree, an act of characteristically vigorous recovery. It seems that rude health and the prime of life mean nothing in a globalised world where cheep goods trump all environmental considerations.
May is a monochrome month. It’s white on a palette of new greens. It’s the colour white in strong sunlight, in shade and in moonlight. It’s a feverish succession of events. Plant growth is audible in May even above birdsong. May is the month of riotous cow parsley, dandelion clocks and cuckoo flowers. Of hairy tares and chickweed. And above it all, this year in unrivalled splendour, hawthorn blossom.
A narrow passage of colour rolls out in front of me as I drive through a dense sea fret. It disappears behind me in the time it takes to look in my rear view mirror. Warm spring air is being turned into billowing cold mist by the still wintery North Sea. I’m adrift on ribbon of May.