The Hunter

The hunter is not so small now. The white hairs under his chin have spread around the bottom of his muzzle. He still loves to play, but sometimes avoids heavy rain and wind. When he rises, he's a little slower than he was. He won't lie in his bed if he's still damp from the river and frets a little if he's cold and damp. He has escaped from the garden a couple of times in the last few months, taking himself for a walk, meeting and greeting in his own unquiet way. 

When I try to fathom that he is in all probability past the mid-point of his life, my mind will not confront that idea.



It is the last day of August. There is dew on the ground, the morning air is cold and mist clings to the fens. May was intensely hot and the summer was wet between long bursts of sunshine. The fruit which survived the blast of late frost is early this year. The orchard is a teeming factory of small creatures. The new mulberry is all new shoots and leaves, having been left for dead by the frost. There was a single mulberry on it earlier, but some creature stole it. Beyond that the medlar which seemed to have ignored the frost, lost all its fruit later. There is a gala apple tree which I have saved from a cancrous stump, now beautifully shaped. Its fruit are bigger and cleaner than before. Beyond that the Old Laughing Lady is fat with plums. We can't reach it's upper branches even with our tallest ladder, so it mocks us. Dragonflies rattle about its branches and there is the first hint of how this place works. The Night Planted Orchard is thick with dragonflies. Great fat beasts who patrol the branches like little foremen, taking out the small insects that we can hardly see. They are the first hint of the source of the rude health of the orchard. Tucked inside a hedge is another, a box for a fat snuffling hedgehog. The hedges are trim and let in light and wind. We have dug a ditch to take away some of the water. A new pond is coming when I have the time and energy. I have reached the clay, the rest of the digging will be hard. There is a tribe of robins here, including one who has followed us day after day from the time it was fledged. It had no fear of us before it even grew its red feathers. 


The Corpse-like Copse

There is something about a grove of quaking aspens that makes you look twice. Perhaps it's the striking pale bark against the dark interior of the forest, or the uniform ranks of trunks like a small, tall army. They seem somehow apart from other trees. They meet in huddles, like gangmembers, huddled together but each individual stiff and erect. Close up they have a corpse like sheen, white touched with yellow-green, slashed with black scars. In bright sunshine their bark has a touch of white gold, or perhaps another, rarer metal. Their broken-off lower branches are framed in smooth ridges which make them look like eyes. The growth ridges on the trunks look almost like the tree is wrapped in bandages, like a mummy in a black and white movie. Saplings push up from the mountain earth, rising from a single root system. A thousand trunks, one tree, making this the largest organism on Earth and one of the oldest too. Groves last tens of thousands of years.

A quaking aspen is rightly a white poplar. Near to the Night Planted Orchard there is a grove of native black poplar, vanishingly rare now.



Snake Oil

The Hunter - not so small now - finds something in the grass. A scent that makes him unusually wary. He pads at a plantain. The high-summer, high-noon sky is brilliant white with clouds, but overlaid with a herd of deep grey-bellied rain-cows begging to be milked. The grey has turned the river to matt black oil rippled with silver. The flowers of the riverbank are reflected and inverted. Purple loosestrife hangs like lolling dogs tongues. Golden ragwort flowers, swarms of starry teasels and a late scattering of forget-me-nots are arranged like fireworks over the black water. I turn back and see the grass slither, sinuously, though I do not see the snake.


Burning Teasels

The teasels are enjoying the rain, filling the riverbanks with their stiff, spikes. Their tiny flowers bloom in a lavender precession over their oval heads, so that they look like so many match-heads struck in slo-mo purple flames.