It’s been a peculiar week for me – I’ve felt very adrift with the change in the weather. It’s as if I’ve been floating about on the water without a paddle, not knowing which way to go. By now, I should be used to the change in seasons and the difference it makes to my day, but it takes a little while for me to make the transition. Due to the warm days I can dispense with clearing and laying the fire, stacking logs indoors and collecting starters and lighters down the lane. Now my time changes to planting seeds, caring for seedlings and working in the garden instead. There’s nothing wrong with that and I love how I spend my time, but it takes a while to adjust.
Out the window this morning, there was a hazy mist hovering around the fields. That was a good sign for the day to come and, sure as eggs is eggs, the sun came out and warmed the soil. The bold and beautiful magpies, their long tail feathers shining in the sun, were up and about early. One of them flew three different directions in turn, landing on the same tree each time, before returning to its nest, chattering away as only magpies can. Colourful goldfinches with their bright reddy coloured faces and yellow wing patches are still busy in the hedge with their nest. They seem to have taken over this particular part of the hedgerow from the dunnocks, who potter about on the lawn below but keep their distance. Many think that the dunnock is a small, dull, brown bird with no character but they make my day with their velvet song, not quite matching the robin, but still as tuneful. Never a cross word, does the dunnock have – they keep out of trouble and milly-mander about at the base of the bird table for most of the day.
Yesterday, I had three robins at the bird table and what a scrap occurred – in all my days I can honestly say I’ve never seen a robin fold itself in two! One of them was so aggressive, its beak went up in the air and its tail came to meet its beak from behind, completing almost a circle. This possessive little robin, with its very red breast, was protecting its territory with a vengeance and wasn’t afraid to show off. To be fair, it does have a nest hidden low down in the hedge that runs along the back garden and, probably, a family to feed so it has a point. The robin will routinely fly from hedge to fence post, to the corner of my raised vegetable bed and then back again. On the way back it uses a circular route, by-passing all the posts and coming in at an angle around seven feet from the nest.
As I sit at the garden table I can see this confident little bird making its way through the shrubs and branches to its destination, safely hidden away. You take your life in your hands sitting at the garden table as the swallows are extremely busy too. They have nested in the eaves part of the house and fly, at speed, back and forth, darting here and there on the wing and have been known to whizz past my ears when I’ve been lunching in the garden. They bring a certain gaiety and joyfulness to the warm days with their constant chittering as they zoom about. Last year, when their fledglings left the nest, the parent birds fed them whilst they were perched on the cherry tree. It was so funny to watch as the podgy babies lined up on the branch waiting for their delivery from mum and dad. Perhaps it will the same this year too.
The front windows of the cottage look over Exmoor fields and valleys and I always love to hear the sounds of the coming day as they rise into the air in the early hours. As is usual, I opened the curtains and then followed with the window. A chill breeze hit my body but the noises in such a peaceful place were plentiful and I didn’t want to miss them. Goosebumps arising, I stood with my cup of tea and listened as a dog barked in the distance together with the distinct bleating of sheep and their lambs, obviously being rounded up for one reason or another and not too happy about it. Birdsong was the next to hit me as I stood there, still chilling, but not in the relaxed way the word sometimes means. I could pick out robins with their truly velvety song and a male blackbird with his beak so yellow, it appeared as if it could have been dipped in a fresh egg yolk that morning. He was high on a post and calling out to the world for all his worth. Chaffinches called with their morning song, one after the other, non-stop and vying for attention in the orchestra of song… and the magpies, chattering away like percussion in the background. Lastly, the very distant but very distinctive drone of a tractor, carrying out a daily task in the fields beyond. Nature can be noisy sometimes but also very entertaining – country sounds – you can’t beat them.
Closing the window I shivered against the chill of the air but knew it wouldn’t last long. Misty morns, at this time of year, herald warm days and I was happy and content to leave the wildlife to its own devices whilst I readied myself for the hours in front of me. Plans for the day involved washing the kitchen floor (necessary), replacing the elastic in a fitted sheet (it only lasts so long when it’s washed so often), and baking a lemon drizzle cake because afternoon tea without cake is just not cricket. Once I’d completed these chores, although they’re not chores as such, I’d be free to wander the garden and examine my herbs and plants. I have so many herbs that need splitting, potting up and moving: marjoram, mint, lemon balm, sage, thyme, horseradish to name a few. I don’t know where to begin but I enjoy jobs such as this – it’s therapy and gives me time to think on things so I can’t wait to get stuck in.
Over the weekend whilst working in the garden, I noticed a hen pheasant creeping down low, and making her way across the field to my raised bed area. I absently asked her where she was going (quite normal for me – I chat to birds, trees and plants alike), and she froze, keeping close to the grass. I was able to move quite close to her as I weeded the beds and, still, she kept her position sitting there like a stone, pretending she wasn’t there and ignoring me. On a ploughed field nobody would know she was there but here, on lush green grass, she stood out like a sore thumb. As I moved on, she moved too, closer to the beds until she was on the opposite side to me. I left her alone and thought nothing of it but was glad of the company. I often have pheasants wandering the garden, perched on a stump or resting in the undergrowth – it’s good to see their array of colours as you peer out into the garden first thing in the morning. So, this morning I was pottering about with my herbs digging them up to replant and pot up. To my amazement, there in the corner of the bed I was working in, I found four pheasant eggs. Buried slightly under the soil in an indentation, the hen pheasant had laid her eggs in amongst my marjoram. She has good taste and must have required a first class nesting site that smelled fresh from morning ’til night. Needless to say, I left the eggs and the clump of marjoram protecting them and now know what the bold hen pheasant was up to yesterday when she wouldn’t budge from her position on the grass.
I’ve come in now for a welcome and reviving cup of coffee before I tackle another bed but I am intrigued with the small mounds of gravel, that have appeared at the side of the cottage. Dotted about are groups of gravel from the pathway, piled up into little mounds. On inspection there is nothing under the mounds and if I rake them away, then they’re back the next morning. I can only think that a hedgehog or a fox is rooting about looking for worms and slugs and, in their investigation, pile up the stones as they go. I do have a hedgehog in the front garden and his little black calling cards have started to appear again now the weather is warming up. He lives in a clump of old fir-tree branches and dried leaves, which I leave there for him. However, when disturbed last year, whilst I was raking the continual fall of beech leaves, he was most disgruntled. My prickly, pretty faced friend must have been out for a wander and I didn’t expect to see him where I did… but I did. I must have poked him with my rake for his little, black, beady nose appeared from out of the leaves, sniffing the air. His nose was very shiny and looked as if it had been polished with boot-blacking. Circling his head and assuming that all was good to go, he ambled out of the pile of leaves, some of which were still stuck to his prickles, and made his way back to his fir-tree home. I’ve not seen him since but wonder if he is making himself busy by re-designing my pathway for me.
However, we have a very beautiful fox in the vicinity too, who was greatly in evidence in the early hours of the morning some days ago. It is a stunning specimen in bright ginger colours and a brush that any fox would be proud of, tipped with bright white at the end. I saw it on Sunday morning, passing by the gate, nose down, tail out straight behind him as he made his way across the lane and into the field opposite. I lost sight of him there, as a large beech tree blocks my view, and I suppose my gravel mounds could be down to him too but they are very delicately made.
So, coffee in hand, I’m finishing today’s blog here at the cottage. As I type there are blue tits pecking around the window frame and the chaffinches are still calling non-stop. A great spotted woodpecker is favouring the garden table to sit on whilst deciding which nut feeder to visit. No matter which one he chooses, he will always cling to the side away from me, which is very frustrating sometimes. With a red spot on the back of his head I know he’s a male and with his bouncy flight he’s off and away to the row of beech trees on the left of the garden. From the garden, I can quite distinctly hear him drumming away at the tree trunks, busy in his work, but he visits regularly and I’m happy to feed him and his family.
Coffee break over, I have to return to my herbs and the solace of the garden. However, it’s so hard to resist the lemon drizzle cake sitting downstairs in my small but homely kitchen. Problem is, I have to walk past my mouth-watering cake to get outside but need to ignore it until afternoon tea because once cut into…
We’ll just have to see if I can run the gauntlet – simple pleasures, it’s what I’m all about.