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October at Fromus

Friday 7th October 5.30 – end of a grey day.  Grey clouds folded low and still. On the track a crushed pigeon wing – the Fromus bed is bone dry except for one pool. Light fading so I don’t venture into it.  Sap retreating – dog’s mercury pale and drooping, oak-leaves brown at their outer half.  Leaves float silently off maple and elder leaving spaces for sky-light to enter, reminding me of the brightness of spring light shining through first tiny translucent leaves – a long time back, a long time forward.  Moving away from the traffic sounds, birdsong comes through – and I wish I could identify them. Can I say for sure “blackbird, blue-tit, hedge sparrow”? No.  Step softly towards the first pond, suddenly a coot scoots without sound across the patch of open lit water, with intent but not in fear or flight. Pity I forgot my ‘bins.  Stand stock still, and another crosses, and another – a family?  Had they felt the drum of my feet approaching, and fled?  At the far end, coot toe-prints and small deer slots in mud. The wet soft margin matted with repeating pattern of interlocking flat star-forms of pointed leaves, interlaced with some miniature knotweed in flower, and the water-mint flowers by the bank.  A long-tailed brown bird flits across from bramble to maple.

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Out along the meadow, walking is easier than in August, over and along the surface of the exhausted grass now lain down as a mat.  Light rain prickles my cheeks – pings and plips off my coat while another bird sings.  Clusters of straight-backed teasels are ready to feed finches when times get hard.  I’m fascinated by filigree of small dock stems, deep red against the darkening green ground – thistledown attached here and there.  More sap leaving. Pale elder leaves flopped, beside the ripening old man’s beard tufts. Dusk-sharpened silhouettes tell a lot.  Dead elm, dying ash.  Lush halos of oak trees’ summer sprouting have been rich feasts for caterpillars.  A delight to see oak seedlings popping up through the grass from acorns hidden by crows, jays or squirrels.  Prr-rr-rr  Tsee-ee ! small birds skittering overhead from border to stream edge. Rasping croak of pheasants settling to roost on the high  bank – a last outburst.  Light fades more but the red of hip, haw, unripe blackberry still shines out against the dark hedge. Next year’s thistles are green whorls of leaves at ground level, while this year’s heads curl over like a shepherd’s crook.  And, what? A cane in the grass – a marker of orchids maybe – now wrapped in lichens.  Remains of a pigeon, only grey wing feathers and some down, somehow beautifully arranged. Is there a fox about?

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To north-west a tawny owl calls “too-wet-to-woo!” over Lodge Farm – it isn’t really.

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A crow on a high tree above the bank – the owl again far off.  A gaggle of rooks start up over the northern horizon.  Though almost dark now, I set out across the further section of ex-fishpond bed, taking care not to trip on the bridge, not to get ripped by brambles opening the gate – and even picking up a dead piece of oak to wave at the cows I knew I might meet, and which might be over-curious. In fact they barely acknowledged me, still white forms at night-fall.

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Serena Inskip

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