Harvest time usually means a period of wild freedom for Lyra. Once the grain is in and the straw baled there are vast stubble fields to play in. No longer constrained to walk round the edge, diagonals, zigzags, wild loops and even fractals are the order of the day. This year began gloriously, with some wild runs in the stubble just past Kersfield. However, the conjunction of a lateish harvest, running into the period when the young pheasant are released, a flurry of visitors at home and, insult to injury, Lyra coming in to season has meant that after those first few days of abandon Lyra has been placed firmly back on the lead.
To take the sting out of this we have abandoned the fields and taken to the woods around the Hirsel. Alas, this does not quite keep us clear of the pheasants – at this time of year they are well nigh impossible to avoid. Today, ahead of us on the path, was a flock of maybe 20 or so. Spotting the dog, they clustered to discuss tactics. If anyone suggested stepping off the path and hiding in the woods they were ridiculed as a proponent of “project fear”.
“No Ethel, I think you will find that WE have right of way. That’s it girls, form up in an orderly line. We will walk slowly 10 yards in front of the big dog. That’ll show it who’s boss. Don’t look round Hilda! Don’t give it the satisfaction. I’ll take the rear, it’ll not get past me – oh no….
What’s that Phyllis? For goodness sake I am merely scouting behind this tree for a roosting spot. There’s no need for you all to follow. I had my eye on the dog you were perfectly safe…. ”
Thankfully where we went left, the birds went right………….
The Hirsel Coos are on their holidays in the field down by the river running past the woods so we usually stop for a chat. Alexander and the ladies are usually to be found taking the shade under the trees whilst the calves explore. There is a festive air. Today we came across a jolly paddling party in the river. In the absence of the coos in the upper fields, the coo circular element of our usual walk has become the squirrel circular. Lyra spends this part of the walk on high alert, regularly stopping stock still to fix some cheeky fellow peeking down at us with a gimlet stare. The Nutkin youth are not one bit abashed, leaping from tree to tree, chattering and thumbing their noses at all path bound lifeforms.
A walk in the woods truly is a glorious thing at this time of year. The ferns are still lush and vast colonies of strange mushrooms are beginning to appear. Amongst the deciduous trees, there is the sharp/sweet tang of lush vegetation after rain, combining with a herby undertone from ivy wending through the lower branches and just a hint of musk as the first fallen leaves start to decay. I find, curiously, that it makes me think of Raki (which, I discovered many years ago, is by far better sniffed for its aroma than consumed internally – it comes with a particularly evil hangover). Later, where there are conifers amongst the birches, the earthy tones of the needles subtly change the mood to something clean and bracing. The silence is thick and creamy. The plashing of the river and birdsong are all simply folded into the stillness and held there, in suspension.
Today we were treated to a rather fine coloratura from the willow warblers, which raised a flurry of gloved applause from the woodpigeon and enthusiastic, if rusty, squawks from the pheasant contingent. The bird which goes “toot peep peep” (another Avis Incognitis I’m afraid) was also much in evidence, providing backing vocals. At the edge of the woods a pair of circling buzzards were keening incessantly. I should think the pheasant are now a little too big to tackle, but maybe the cheeky squirrels should keep a lower profile?