Things heard or seen in June. By Laura Beatty.
Cuckoos calling in the wood. M1 very loud at night. This year the fields inside the forest are given over to hay. It is eight since they stopped being farmed and were put back to grass. Now they breathe like a sea and every year there are handfuls of new flowers. Where do they arrive from so far into an oak forest? Ox eye daisies. Common knapweed. Hedge bindweed. Great mats of birdsfoot trefoil. There is Yellow rattle. Speedwell. Meadow buttercup. Red flowered sorrel whose coin chains catch bright in the light. Gauzy heaps of something that the books say might be Smooth Tare. Meadow vetchling. Domes of White clover. Domes of Red. Walking out there is the noise of bees everywhere and the whole air smells sweet of clover. There must be millions of bees here. Lesser trefoil. Round the edges dog roses and honeysuckle climb among the upper branches of the trees.
Wading the long grass, peering at things. Trying to tell the difference. Picking little bunches. Looking at exactly the same pages of the flower book as last year. Gym shoes full of grass seed.
Among the grasses, meadow browns. Crickets always a step ahead. Blues like confetti. A butterfly’s flight such a gawky affair, coltish, barely controlled, so much flipping and tumbling, as if in an unmanageable dress, catching at the hem in heels and tripping. But landing on the white clover does anyone realize how focussed, how intent it is, revolving in its blue kimono, supping, supping. I’d like to know what exactly it gets from the sun when it flats its wings open. Is it anything more than pleasure? The common blue. Nothing common about its colour flittering away, tripping over again, above the bending grass. Swallows, toes pointed like divers. Swifts.
Wild oats, green. Neat timothys. Cuckoo spit. Spiders’ tunnel webs like navels. Bee flies. The Longhorns standing around, ordinary flies in their eyes. Nodding, nodding, bent round scratching their flanks with one horn cocked. Tails going. By chance the new bull is called Forest. You can ride him, apparently.
A fighter jet goes over, it must be inches above my head.
Flies in the wood, Yellow archangel. Wood sorrel. Dog’s mercury. Sweet woodruff. The M1 very loud. And the cuckoo calling.
Visiting other places. Elsewhere it is a summer of red kites over high and falling beech woods. Hump-backed hills full of sheep and strong lambs. Water meadows. Spotted orchid. Water avens. Clear stream with Yellow flags. Starry Pond Water-crowfoot that lies itself down on the skin of the water and gives itself to the current, just catching where it can, flowering even uprooted, not thinking, just going with the flow.
A growing family of ducks.
The beech woods full of shining wood mellick. Fistfulls of wild cherries hanging, red but still sour. Coming out again, kites overhead.
Kites look scrappy, loose, splashed black markings, splashed white, red, whatever. Barrel chest as he goes over, eyeballing me, as if he knows me, as if he’s seen me before. Does he know me? Sliding overhead. No hurry. Some of the feathers on his wings gap-toothed like a pub brawler. Kites look pretty rough.
Later, in a grassy field, shut by the woods a group of them lounging about the sky as if they owned the place. Two harrying a pair of lapwings lazily, almost bored and four others watching. If there was a wall they would lean on it. If they had gum they’d chew it. And the lapwings cry and wheel and fight, although they are nothing by comparison, although the odds are ridiculous. Are they protecting a nest? Their distress is so pitiful. And if the kites had mobile phones they would be videoing.
Then on mid-summer night sleeping out under an indifferent pollard, back in the forest. And the owls riot until two in the morning. Grass above eye-level and above the grass a great moon like half a white biscuit. Pipistrelles. The M1 roaring. Then disappointingly deep sleep.
Waking in the thin non-light, which is most like water, cold, alien, in time to hear the first bird sing. A lark which lifted morning into the air as if it was something it had found lying in the grass. Lying with how many other things, in holes and hollows, in hedgerows and on twigs and branches, all opening their eyes and listening. The silence, the one song, and the attention of other consciousnesses. As if witnessing a ritual. It’s dawn. It must be. The lark says so.
Laura will be discussing her favourite nature writing with Laura Barton on the Caught by the River stage at the Port Eliot festival on July 25th.
Her fantasic novel, ‘Pollard’, is out now in paperback and on sale in our shop priced £8.99