If when you have to exercise much willpower to open the back door to venture forth to face yet another cold and wet day in December, it may help if you can recall the magnificent autumn period this October. The sunny windless days made one feel sad to see each day end for fear tomorrow would be less perfect. Farmers were able to cultivate their land into a good seed bed for drilling next year's anticipated harvest. Oil seed rape, the earliest seed to be drilled in the new farming year, got off to a good start. The fields left until the Spring are destined for sugarbeet, spring barley and maybe peas or even part of the 15% “set aside”. A variation of this policy is to “set aside” a specified wide strip of land around the perimeter of a field to comply with the EEC policy of taking land out of food production. Even the meadows produced that second flush of growth to keep content the cattle that grazed them right up to the wet times of early November.
Of course at any time of the year, wet or dry, sunny or dull, there is something in the countryside about us to wonder at and give satisfaction to an enquiring mind. Even in my own wanderings when a miscellany of unconnected thoughts jostle in, and just as quickly slip out of my mind, every now and then something special takes my attention. Such was the case when by a woodside, which I had passed by many times, I caught sight of the fruit of a spindle tree. There are not too many in our parish. The fruit in early winter is orange enclosed in a pink capsule. The tree is more “bush” like , and Betjeman enthusiasts will recall his “Miss J.Hunter-Dunn” poem when “her father’s euonymus shines as we walk and swing past the summerhouse buried in talk”. Well that was a spindle tree.
The large windows in our house are great for good views over the surrounding countryside. Sadly, because they reflect the garden, birds tend to bash into them thinking it is a way through, often with fatal results. It would not be quite so bad if it was always a common sparrow or starling that terminated its journey and often its life, in this way. I was, however, devastated to recently find a goldcrest lying inert at the base of one of the offending windows. Our smallest native bird, weighing just an ounce, seemed hardly heavy enough to cause its death upon impact with the glass. It must have been a female indicated by the yellow streak of colour on the crown of its head. The male has an orange streak. Its beak seemed little thicker than a needle. The previous bird which met such an untimely end was a young green woodpecker. Extended, its tongue was some 6” long for the purpose of extracting insects and grubs from tree crevices.
It was good to watch a barn owl patrolling the meadows by the river recently, but so far the regular herons have not been joined by the shag that I am told has moved into the northern side of our village.