With all the chaos and confusion around moving house and going on honeymoon, I realised that I had not been up to the Chayne for ten days – my longest absence in six years. Heading up the hill for a quick spin and a mouthful of fresh air, I felt as happy as the proverbial pig, despite the rain and low cloud.
The hill has slumped into deep orange, and the bracken lies like the wreckage of some awful disaster. Down in the hollows by the broken stones the myrtle is mouldering and the final shreds of colour are being washed off the bony asphodel rattles.
The last few migrant wheatears have now been replaced by stalwart squadrons of Scandinavian redwings and thrushes. The rushes are dying and the doe and her twins which all summer have glowed in autumnal tones are now chocolate brown silhouettes of their former selves. The tell-tale chins flit ghost-like behind the naked rowans where the blackbirds rake out the odd berry still hanging.
Although it was only a quick walk, I found that I had stopped for half an hour to watch three harriers hunting down through the bog – ringtails hanging at waist height into the wind, turning back after each questing sweep to start again at the top. A pipit was found and dismantled, but the grasses are empty now by comparison to their rustling abundance in August when every tump and twist concealed a vibrant scrap of meat.
In the absence of pipits, there are now scores of snipe in the long grass. Having followed the moon, these dainty wanderers are busily staining the black chowder soil with blotches of white shit. The ground has taken a long time to soften after several months of baking. A film of mud lies on the peat like skin on a shin, and where the water has pooled long enough to sog and soak, there are some signs of narrow-beaked riddling, particularly around the cowpats which have attracted hosts of greasy-capped toadstools.
And with a twist of maddening fate, the dog pushed a fox out by my feet and they ran together almost within touching distance. The villain parted the grasses with his nose, ears pressed back into his mane. The two ran past me and up the track towards the birches while I stood behind and swore lustily and at length. I even bent down to pick up a stone to throw, but dropped it again.
Much has changed during my absence, and I must get back to work.