The Grass of Parnassus

Grass of Parnassus
Grass of Parnassus

Given that the last week has been devoted to various other projects, it has been a while since I’ve been able to get up and have a wander on the Chayne. I could see from the low ground that the grass is changing colour and that there are many more browns and reds in the bent than there has been. Several dry days have baked the black haggs into grey streaks of peat, and the haws are preparing to match the glossy rowan berries.

I headed up the hill to bring in the tractor battery to be charged, and was surprised to find that the motionless hulk of metal has become a sanctuary for birds over the summer. The swallows built a nest in the cab, and a wheatear manufactured a lovely cup of grass roots, dock stems and sheep’s wool between the exhaust and the cylinder heads. It is a good place for a nesting wheatear, tucked into a narrow, rusting tunnel out of the wind, and I hope that they managed to fledge some chicks – it seems like few wheatears did this summer.

Distant roe appeared here and there against the turning grass, and the cows lashed their tails and meandered happily in the wet ground where the field scabious has run riot and the grass is underlit with a gentle ocean of vague purple bulbs. The last of the buttercups are still blazing away, but they are slowly going out like stars as the heather flower begins to falter. It has been a surprisingly good year for heather flower, and the bizarre summer has meant that there are still many buds that have not yet cracked and shown themselves. On the whole, the best of the show is over, and the asphodel heads are growing red and angry now that their petals are gone. I was interested to see grass-of-parnassus flowering on some nearby ground earlier in the week; possibly the first time I’ve ever come across the species. It was thriving thanks to a conservation grazing project, and I hope in due course to learn more about this kind of management from a practical perspective.

Swallows in huge numbers swirled round at some height in the warm evening calm, and I found the remains of a fox-killed snipe as I trekked up to gather a load of peat. There is now only one more load to come, and the woodshed is packed to the rafters with chunky black crumbs of fuel. I don’t take enough peat to fuel the stove all winter, but when it is mixed with ash and beech, it makes a fantastic slow-burning heart for a fire which smoulders for hours and produces a beautifully evocative, sweet moorland smell. A judiciously positioned piece of peat on the fire last thing at night can often keep it burning until the morning, and then the slightest touch with the poker makes the white ash crumble into life again.

On my way home, I saw two bullfinches in the brambles by the roadside. It seems amazing that bullfinches are so hard to find during the summer, yet they always appear as if by magic in September and October, regular as clockwork. I’m not aware of any large scale migration undertaken by bullfinches, and I know that they breed in Galloway – my curiosity is more a result of the fact that they, like jays, are almost invisible for nine months of the year.


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