A place to read

29 August 2021

Today the buzzards are loud, mewing incessantly. I look up, but the conifers leave only small patches of sky visible between their feathery tops and the birds are hidden.

Their calling is met by the sound of the stream rising from the valley bottom, a hundred or so feet below me. The stream is also loud. It has been so for weeks now. It is loud because it is shallow and splashing over rocks; the water low at the end of a dry if not overly sunny summer. It will be loud again in the winter, but with a different voice, a voice born of rushing brown turbulence.

I am pleasantly suspended between these two sounds; the birds and the river. Suspended literally as well as metaphorically, on a seat slung between two trees halfway up the valley side.

To my right are conifers. Majestic. Two hundred feet tall or so. Western hemlock, planted maybe eighty years ago, native to northwest America but looking naturalized and attractive on this steep hillside.   Conifers provide a poorer habitat than deciduous woodland, but these trees, I know, are enjoyed by the local marsh tits who harvest their cones. They were also visited last winter, I think, maybe, hopefully, by a pair of crossbills, although the birds were high and the identification difficult.

To my left is scrubby deciduous woodland; a mixture of hazel, oak, and beech; full of tawny owls and, in the summer months, chiffchafs, blackcaps and pied flycatchers.

The valley itself is a wooded gash in otherwise rolling county. It is as if a knife, drawn across proved earth, left a cut, which opened when the crust was baked. But, in fact, it is not fire but ice that created this valley, formed, as it was, by melt-water draining away from the glaciers of the last ice age.     

The particular trees I am suspended from are perched on a rocky outcrop twenty or so feet high. Coupled with the steep natural fall of the land this extra height is enough to allow me to see right across the valley, and to lend my seat a certain buzzard’s-nest vertigo, the mild thrill of which I enjoy.

Today it is warm, still and quiet. There is little movement, other than a gentle rain of pine needles from the branches above and the occasional flicker of white butterflies finding the sunnier patches of the woodland floor.  But it is not always like this. Sat up here in a strong wind I have been in a mountainous sea, all green waves and movement; trees of different thicknesses finding their own resonances within the wind, bending and swaying, towards and away, each to a different time, like the violin bows of an amateur orchestra. The seat, being attached to the trees, becomes a part of this motion, putting you in a boat on the sea, rather than looking at the waves from the safety of the shore. There is even an edge of the sailor’s fear; what if a mast should break or a spar come crashing down.

But, so long as it is dry and not too cold, this is a wonderful place to sit and read. I know I am lucky to have access to it. Lucky to the extent even that guilt sometimes takes the edge even off the pleasure of reading.

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