The Wild Flower Calendar

5 December 2013 // The Wild Flower Calendar

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November: Gorse

Illustration: Greg Stevenson
Words: Mathew Clayton

There was an air of malevolence on the Downs when I went for a run today. At the top, out of breath, I stopped for a minute and took in the view. A milky blue fog hung across the Ouse valley. A large fire was burning in Firle, the smoke twisting briefly upwards before it became one with the clouds. I wondered what drama it was cloaking, a burning home or just a bonfire? Nearby a bird of prey perched on a windbent hawthorn bush, eyeing the slope, searching for lunch. Suddenly and unexpectedly, two crows appeared and attacked the bird. A mid air dogfight ensued. The crows soon got the upper hand and the bird of prey disappeared over the horizon.

Even the cows seemed infected by the mood. They stood defiantly on the path, glaring at me, refusing to budge as I approached, forcing me to run round them. In the corner of the field they blocked my exit. I crept along the fence and stretched out a hand to flick open the gate. As I squeezed through I am sure i heard one of them mutter the word, ‘cunt’. No wonder the farmer had been forced to punch one in the face during an altercation earlier this year.

I ran on to the dew ponds, my turning point before I returned to the comfort of the village. The ponds, clay lined pits that gather muddy rainwater rather than crystalline dew, are encircled by a thicket of gorse. I am not sure there is a more aggressive looking plant. The bark appears battle scarred and the branches, with their jagged spikes, could be easily be used as instruments of torture. Their single redeeming quality are their flowers. Even on this medieval November day they were in blossom. I carefully picked a few, crushed them and held my hands up to my nose. For just an instant I got a hit of their delicate coconut scent. A flicker of summer swirling round my head. I turned round and ran back down the hill.

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