|(Speech bubble: 'SIGH! I thought we were on a WALK!')|
Simon's passion is hedge-laying (or 'steeping', as we say in Devon). This is a way of keeping the hedges trim without the brutal mechanical flail, and because the young supple branches are still attached, and split only partway through lengthwise so they can be bent but continue to live, they carry on growing and send runners upwards to form a new hedge. Here's a freshly-laid hedge of hazel, ash and thorn; in the close-up you can see the Vs Simon cuts from hazel to use as pegs.
Every year Simon prunes or coppices out the excess and cuts the thicker branches into lengths to be stored in cords, labelled by month and year (a cord of wood is 4 feet high, 4 feet wide, and 8 feet long, stacked tightly; 128 cubic feet). There's a good crop of fungus on some of them:
I love the way that when you know someone in one context, other often very different aspects of their lives only seep out bit by bit. It's only very recently I've found out that Simon's other big passion is Shakespeare, on whom/which he's extremely knowledgeable.
Further on, where the red sandstone belt makes a little incursion into the parish, pink sheep with new lambs are munching their way through a slew of mangolds. Mangold. Man gold. Isn't that a great name? It's Old German, from Mangold Werzel,'beet root'. Down in the birch copse, where the crowns are tipped with magenta prior to leafing, I'm pleased to see the very white buzzard. She always stands out against the woods and fields. There's a huge variation in buzzard colour, but the family that inhabits this stretch of streambank is noticeably white; white as the barn owl quartering the hillside opposite under the rising moon at half-light the other day, and almost as white as the little egret that lands most days in the tall dead oak by the stream.
I've noticed how crucial my daily walks have become. On the odd occasion when my dog has been at my daughter's, I've felt completely lost without the need for a walk – until I remember that I don't have to have the dog to have a walk.
Walking's where much of my poetry arises. It's also a way of unkinking psychospiritual knots, for me; and has become as essential as silence. This has been a surprising and rather lovely side-effect of ageing: I love dancing, but walking has become even more crucial to my wellbeing; I love music, but long periods of silence have become nourishment I can't live without on a daily basis. (Stillness I'm still working on.)
It's in these times, the walking, the silence, that the things that are really important, the things that I truly want to devote my life to, that I want to allow to direct my life, are at last given space to emerge unsqueezed and uncluttered.
I have my heart, that faltered to the point where I had to change my life, last autumn, to thank for this. Now I'm listening.