The trees are dancing but the day is bright, at last. It’s August, still, but the chill in the air has made itself at home, too soon for holidaying humans.
In the green world beyond our fences, though, nature continues as she would, regardless.
Blackberries ripen, too many for the foraging creatures out there. The glossy, purple plumpness of the fruits becomes desiccated and dull. Tough new seeds grow old, unmolested.
Birds still bathe away their itches.
The pumpkin blows out gaudy yellow flowers as it stretches across the paving, trying to reach some place it can never imagine, like America. One small, round ball of promising fecundity has formed. We’ll carve it in late October if wind and weather and wildlife let it be.
Yes, I’m thoroughly distracted.
It’s hard to sit, to feel this slow-motion pageant passing by and not pay attention.
I’ve learnt so much this summer that it’s almost an embarrassment. Me, with decades of life behind me, learning, at last, to observe.
Nature’s natural noticers won’t understand my excitement. But, glancing through one of the better-than-a-landscape painting windows I see a ruddy brown patch in the grass. A patch that moves, that lifts its bushy, glossy, white-tipped tail and trots away to hunt. And my heart sings.
Mr Fox, you’re a beauty, no urban, mangy fox, but a Bold Renard, a prince of your kind.
I stand, humming, ‘A hunting we will go, a hunting we will go, to catch a fox and put him in a box and never let him go.’
(I think my parents had the words a bit wrong – but that’s how they’ll always be for me.)
My senses seem to have sharpened with each hour I’ve spent staring out of these windows or lazing on the garden bench.
Breakfast on our tiny balcony, when the days are hot enough, is a rare treat and one fine morning I’m surveying the waking world when I hear a feeble, ‘Woo. W-oo’.
A tired, owlish call. Close by – and very subdued.
Wondering if the owl might still be there, sheltering from the brightness of early morning, I pick up the binocular (that’s correct, trust me) – which has been in almost daily use since we moved here.
I have no expectations, just feel like inspecting the trees. And there, on a branch messy with needles and twigs, near the trunk of the tatty, high-summer fir tree I think I see …
But is it?
Could it be?
It looks like ears.
I think I detect a movement, but can’t be sure. I pass the binocular to my partner in nature-gazing.
He watches. I see his expression change, he puts down the binocular and fetches the book.
A long-eared owl.
Later, I check the branch again to make sure it’s not a figment of my imagination.
No ears. I take it as proof.
It’s a carnival in miniature, at times, our small, herbaceous garden.
Peacock butterflies and tortoiseshells, silver washed fritillaries and Burnet moths, bumble bees and hover flies, dragon flies and wasps, thrushes and robins – and even a greater spotted woodpecker perches, for a few glorious moments, on our fence.
Then a monster invades our paradise. A grey squirrel.
Grey! The pox-bearing immigrant that threatens our lovely reds.
(I nearly wrote, ‘our lovely Squirrel Nutkins’ – but I never was into Beatrix Potter and had to look him up. He wasn’t a very nice squirrel, was he? But then, if our reds were a bit more like him then maybe the greys would not be wiping them out?)
My husband threatens to buy an air rifle. I don’t know if he can, here in our blessedly gun-unfriendly haven.
Days pass. Weeks. We see young grey again and again, making a habit of knocking down the seed feeder next door. The neighbours make a habit of putting it back.
He prances around on our fences and even – the cheek of it – sticks his little nose against the upstairs kitchen window of our topsy-turvy house.
We don’t see him for a while, then, just yesterday, observant-man sees a dark movement in a tree.
‘What’s that? It looked like a black tail.’
‘A magpie?’ quoth I.
‘No – look!!!! It’s a red squirrel!!!!!!’
It’s worth the exclamation marks.
You’ve never seen such a beauty. Long, slender, graceful, it races along, jumping from tree to tree, tail outstretched, lithe body soaring in what seemed like flight.
All too soon he’s gone.
And then, today, he reappears, a longer visit. His coat and tail dark auburn rather than red, only his chest the orangey colour of cutesy illustrations.
We stand, watching him, revelling in his agility. But then I turn and see it, next door.
The grey one.
They say it’s only a matter of time. Fifteen days or so.
Let’s hope someone else has an air rifle. For once I really wouldn’t have a qualm.
I want that red squirrel to win. I’m becoming addicted to nature. I want it to play by my rules, but I don’t think it will.
There’s a partial mouse in the garden, what’s left of a wood mouse.
It’s yin and yang, I suppose.
I can’t have the owl without the dead mouse.
But I hope we can have red squirrel without the pox.
And fox without the box.