A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Suddenly Summer

Sunday's wildflower walk took in the countryside east of the village. My walk yesterday covered the western side. In fact it was the same walk I did here and here. But what a difference three months make. The countryside had been completely transformed by the green burgeoning of summer. It was like walking through an utterly different landscape. In the middle of May I'd left a cold, drab England for Sicily. Returning to England a few weeks later I'd been ambushed by the loveliness, the luxuriance of a late springtime. There'd been buckets of rain and big dollops of sunshine in my absence, which had spurred the season into sudden, flowering growth. This all-sensory shock remained with me. From nowhere it was suddenly summer.

When I'd walked this way in April I'd practised a Zen exercise by rotating my five senses - sight, sound, smell, touch, taste - and focusing hyper-consciously on each one in turn. This time it struck me that my wildflower experiment was simply a more refined variation on this: I was concentrating on one object of vision only - looking exclusively at the wildflower channel, you might say. And what riches this narrowed, concentrated vison brought! It's extraordinary how much we miss without this kind of conscious, focused gaze. I'd never have guessed I would have found a staggering 75 different species of wildflower before taking Sunday's dedicated stroll.

Yesterday's walk added a further six flowers to the list: wild carrot, common knapweed, common sorel, self-heal, ground-ivy, shepherd's purse. But there weren't as many wildflowers here compared with Sunday - for I was crossing farmed fields and cultivated ground. It demonstrated to me quite clearly how the roadside verges and hedged backcountry lanes to the east were a much safer haven for a wide variety of wildflowers than this monocultured farmland. It wasn't until I reached the untouched grassland around the old gravel-pit lakes that the flowers became more abundant: bird's-foot-trefoil, ox-eye daisy, hogweed, hemlock, tufted vetch, dog rose, creeping thistle, meadow buttercup, poppy, clover, mallow.

By the lakes I stopped, relaxed and looked about, shifting my intense mono-vision to a broader field of view. A goldfinch trilled its liquid, silvery song from the top of a bush. A yellowhammer - a common bird hereabouts - repeated its 'little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese' mantra and flew from the hedge, a blaze of yellow amid the green. Iridescent blue damselflies darted among the docks and sorels. And a large emperor dragonfly rested motionless in the grass at my feet, its abdomen electric blue with a dark, central stripe, its thorax apple-green.

Gradually I became aware of more birdlife all around me - a grasshopper warbler whirring out its montone song, sounding for all the world like an angler's ratcheted fishing reel, a pheasant sqawking in the undergrowth, a crow caw-cawing in the distance...

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.



George said...

Another wonderful post, Robert, so well-written and vivid that I feel I have just returned from the same walk. When I see the effort you make to identify all of the birds and wildflowers of your region, I am reminded of how important it is to not only appreciate the broad expanse of nature, but to also become familiar with -- and, indeed, celebrate -- the names and characteristics of individual species.

The Solitary Walker said...

It is very kind of you to say this, George - thank you very much. You have encouraged me in my writing no end!