30th March 2021
In a muddy field some time last week, R. and I passed the 100km mark of our walk for charity. The challenge runs until the end of March, so now we’ve decided to get to 150km by tomorrow. The challenge has changed us. R. feels it has helped her cope with the loss of her mother: she has had a reason to get out of the house and do something, when she felt tempted to stay inside with the curtains drawn.
For me, I’ve felt stronger by being a witness to the changing year. Much of my life, at this time of year I’ve felt a background dissatisfaction and unease that Spring is passing me by (which is to say, time is passing me by). That I’m not in contact with the changing earth the way I was when I was young, maybe 9 or 10, and had time to spend outdoors and notice what was new.
By making notes after each walk of what we saw and experienced – simply acknowledging the natural world – I’ve had the sensation that time has slowed down to a more manageable pace.
So today the sun is shining and we’re putting in the kilometres. New flowers are opening up. Wood anemones with their seven white petals. Their Latin name is the mellifluous anemone nemorosa – nemorosa meaning ‘well wooded’ and anemone coming from the Greek anemos, meaning wind (linking through to the Latin animus, meaning breeze, air, as well as breath, spirit, soul). Windflower is another English name for them. The flower head is on a thin stem and trembles in the breeze.
The wood anemones seem to have come out of nowhere: a week ago this patch of woodland floor was dead brown leaves. The chiff-chaffs, now calling nineteen to the dozen in the trees, also seem to have come out of nowhere. We don’t see the migratory birds fly in and land, exhausted, on an English tree. But one day their call is added to the layer of birdsong all around, and they are there.
Some things just appear. Others form, and bide their time. Other elements of Spring are still poised, awaiting the right moment. I know that soon the blackthorn blossom will fill the hedgerows and lift the heart, but for now the buds are formed, but closed, sitting like white beads on the dark twigs.
In the woods near Stapleford, the bluebells are poised too, the spikes emerging, waiting to bloom.
Beside the Beane at Heath Mount is a lush clump of kingcups/marsh marigolds (caltha palustris), glowing gold.
Another flower of wet places, lady’s smock/cuckoo flower (how many plants have multiple names! Hence the need for the Latin, cardamine pratensis) is not that common round here but I spot a solitary plant clinging to the riverbank on Waterford Marsh. Most of the ground is not damp enough for lady’s smock to flourish. But the kingcups love to be right in the mud on the edge of the water.
Above us, red kites swoop and tumble in the clear air, seemingly for the fun of flying.
Spring now is more than a few indicators – the sense of profusion is growing. We can see it and hear it. In Row Wood we approach a loud buzzing and there is a goat willow, bursting with yellow catkins which are alive with bees of all different sizes and colourings, busy making the most of the plentiful pollen.
We’re now seeing the occasional butterfly too: pale yellow brimstones, speckled orange ones which I think are fritillaries and, most impressive of all, a splendid peacock which obligingly settles on the earth in front of us, allowing R. to snatch a photo of it while we admire its wonderful colours. Peacock butterflies hibernate in the winter in hollow trees, so this must be one of its first outings in the Spring sunshine.
At some point, we stop by an oak tree and I have a sensation of the whole wild life of this point in the day, at this particular place: the buds opening, the birds singing, the sun warming the trees. It is all poised and perfect in its way and we’re there to witness it.