Monday, 28 May 2012

My ol' patch

What a jumbled-up sort of a week last week was for my family. A scare, an ambulance, a hospital, tests, dog-sitting, phone-manning, pulling together of splendid siblings, waiting, and ultimately relief.

These ups and downs have seen me spend more than wonted time at my mother's, in the house where I grew up. In Sunday's sunshine, needing time to think about a complex work-gig this week, I escaped to the wartime airfield, where I've watched nature for twenty-five years or more, that was, as long as I lived there, my patch.

The chalky Late Cretaceous bank under the flinty wall of the graveyard was loud with flower. The velvety blue of wild clary, the here-and-there magenta of common vetch, the sunny smile of oxe-eye daisies, all above an irresponsible tangle of hairy tare. Among these flowers were the leaves of the next wave of flowerers - bladder campion, burnet saxifrage and lady's bedstraw - and over them, against the sun-warm wall, three wall brown butterflies. How nice to see you all, old friends.

The male marsh harrier, of the pair that nests in our little valley, floated by, eyes to the ground in search of prey for his hungering chicks. The sky, as always here in spring and summer for as long as I remember, was a din of larks. Hares sprang away across the fields, flapping their leathery ears. Our oystercatchers shouted shrill morse code from the end of the runway.

In the crumbling concrete airstrip's edge field madder bloomed and rue-leaved saxifrage; and in its grassy verge were bird's-foot trefoil - that happy gold of summer - and the fractal fantasy of a too-precocious wild carrot. Over the woods three majestic buzzards soared in the summer heat (back off DEFRA, talk to the wing); and at the rabbit-riddled mound of gorse where every spring I'd see my first green hairstreak, I saw my first green hairstreaks in their nuptial chase. At the end of this strange, uncertain week, I was a boy again.

In local conservation, there is always that lovely heart-slipping moment when you suddenly realize that you are with a knower of the land, who keeps like treasure their stanza of the song, their knowledge, perhaps of that exact part of the fens, their observation, perhaps of that animal.

Jay Griffiths
A Tender Wildness (a speech delivered to the Norfolk Biodiversity Partnership, October 2009)

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