Wednesday, 6 February 2013

A Moment on West Sussex Downs, Early February


The raucous rooks have not yet returned to their tree-top citadels. 
They will arrive with the spring, to sit, side by-side in their pairs or wheel and weave in the blue sky above in gay abandon, like coal-dust tossed on the swirling winds, while a stage below wild daffodils dance between white anemones, dainty flowers shining in the dappled sunshine, like the stars in the sky at night. 
Here and there are bullet-scarred yews and ankle-deep drifts of last autumn’s leaves in weather-camouflaged craters; the faded signature of wartime auxiliary forces training and waiting with baited breath, preparing for the invasion that never came.  
Now the only gunfire is that of game shoots on frosty mornings, hunting the pheasants that scatter from the woodland edge like erratic clockwork toys, oblivious of the knowledge that their existence and indeed their death, helps secure the future and conservation of the seemingly natural, yet carefully managed landscape of which their woodland roosts and grain scattered fields are an integral part.   

The wood where the rookery hangs looks out across a winter-blue hued view, where sunlight puddles in golden pools, and cloud shadows scud across fields of frost-torn mud and pastures bare, dark moss-green firs nestled amongst soft lichen-grey deciduous woods.
Higher up the hill the trees lose their grip on the thin, drought-prone soil, and Kipling’s whale-backed downs rise up to meet the sky. Here once sheep, for wool and meat herded wide, now not shearling drove but plough-carved furrow cuts the flint-jewelled chalk. 
On those steep slopes on which even the bravest tractors do not venture, thorn and bramble adorn the turf that is grazed by rabbit, deer and few remaining sheep, thyme-fragranced and orchid-studded in summer. 

Between darkening clouds and fingers of sunshine that reach across the hillsides, a skylark hangs, half way between heaven and earth, a singing speck on a parachute of song, windblown notes dripping with promise.

The rain starts falling with a spit and a spat. A pitter-patter. Tap. 


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