As a relative newcomer to living in the country, I see my surroundings with a non-expert eye, lacking in knowledge, but full of wonder. From the earliest days I became aware of being outnumbered by the invisible wild animals who are more at home here than any human being. Hedgehogs, hares, rabbits, foxes, badgers, weasels, field mice and voles pursue their lives out of my sight, for the most part, while burrowing animals such as moles, leave unmistakable traces of their presence. Sheep, belonging to a neighbouring farmer, graze and muse, ignoring the teeming life of the tiny creatures around them. Occasionally, I find a frog near the house and one evening there was an invasion of tiny newts who squeezed their way under the front door. Recently, during the school holidays, my city-dwelling grandchildren were charmed to see a hedgehog at close quarters and my younger granddaughter stroked the velvety back of a young still-warm, dead mole.
I see myself and my pets as inhabiting a space between the wild animals who live underground or well hidden in the woodland and the air above me, filled with the swirl of bird wings. From my bathroom window I find myself on the same level as the swallows as they circle high and low before diving into the garage to feed their nestlings. Through the downstairs windows I see a lively band of garden birds visiting the bird feeder or digging for worms in the newly mown lawn. From the top of the tree line buzzards wait to swoop and call out with high pitched, plaintive mews. A woodpecker’s feather has become the prized possession of my 6 year old granddaughter who carries it around in a jar to show to everyone she meets.
Another source of joy for the children are the butterflies, this year appearing overnight, on the Butterfly Bush, the moment the white Buddleia came into flower. The jewel colours of the butterflies stand out against the tiny white flowers on their long narrow spikes, while elsewhere, bumblebees gorge themselves on the blue star-shaped flowers of the borage plants which now grow like weeds.
The wild animals, the birds and the insects, even the amphibians, are the true owners of this place. They are the beings who belong here and who will continue to make it their home. In comparison, my presence is transitory and fleeting, but having the hedges re-laid, preserving the wildflower meadows and planting young trees will, I hope, ensure their future.
In the meantime, I enjoy the scent of lavender as I brush past it, the sight of flowering plants under the wide skies, the feel of a warm tree trunk and the sharp taste of a ripe blackberry. Sounds come from birdsong; from the loquacious twittering of the swallow parents, the sweet notes of the robin and the raucous cry of the crow, which accompany me as I peg out my washing. Hearing the gentle cooing of the wood pigeons on early summer mornings brings back happy memories from the past, while the hoot of the tawny owl in the autumn darkness is evocative of a mysterious world, beyond the everyday.