Sunday, 8 February 2015

Old woman of the heath

The sun lured me out today. It was an early spring sun; still low enough in the sky to flicker through the roadside tree trunks and send long shadows across the path. But for a few long minutes after noon, it gathered strength, as if it's confidence was boosted by the welcome it received from faces too long shaded and winter-wind buffeted. It soon lost it's nerve as the henchmen of evening loomed at its shoulder, and faded into a pale lemonade sky, but it was there and it was warmer than it has been for weeks, for an hour or two. 

Lowland heaths always have a captivating quality, and Iping Common today was beautiful in the yellow light. At this time of year the wind can whip the branches of the trees against the clouds, and the open swathes of landscape can be barren and unforgiving. Today it seemed that the wind, and winter with it, had been lulled into a gentle sigh, suitable for a relaxing Sunday afternoon. Dog-walkers and families strolled along the sandy paths, commenting on the glorious day as if every time they mentioned it, the act of speaking the words aloud would tease a little more warmth from the sun, for just a little longer and help them ignore the fact that the afternoon was already growing cooler. 

Gorse bushes sprawl beside the paths, sunlight reflecting off a thousand gossamer spiders' threads spun from needle to needle, and yellow blooms glowing. Above them clouds of pook-flies shift in golden swarms. Slender birch trees gather in clusters like young ladies whispering together at the edges of the room. And in the dips and hollows and across the sandy stretches in between, grows the old woman of the heath. Come late summer when the heat haze warms her old branches, she will wear a gown of purple and be courted by butterflies and bees and romantic poets, but gnarled and bent, and greyed by winter, the heather leaves the dancing to the younger birches and the pook-flies. 

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