The stillest of mornings, the air so immobile it felt intractably dense, clinging to skin, sealing leaf and stone and stick in a translucent medium that was thin enough to walk in, clear enough to see through, but strangely tangible. Flowers and seeds encapsulated, as if in glass paperweights, did not dance about, but stood like mannequins in frozen postures and poses. In the fields, sulky, ripe barley and wheat waited, slightly damp, for the executioner, heads hanging forlornly. Wild grasses supporting alien fungal growths, probably ergot, on their seeds, waited out the invasion in silence.
Above, the sky was thick and louring with cloud. Rain hung suspended, but it did not fall. I was glad of the cloud and the overcast conditions; perfect for the long walk I planned to spend the morning doing. Heat and sunshine slow me down and make me lazy, make me want to kick off shoes, dive in and out of shade or water. Late summer walking in cooler conditions is best for me. Few insects were about to begin with; even the usually busy hoverflies, seemingly curtailed by the quiescence of the morning, browsed flowers with lassitude.
No birds moved and few were heard – a half-hearted woodpigeon began to call then stopped midway though. August is a time when birds hide and re-make their plumage, so this was unsurprising. Entering the wood from the straight track at the north end, I continued in a straight line, musing on ley-lines and Roman roads, even traversing the boggy part of the path with less detour than usual. Today, the gift of the woods lay in the static, frozen calm – it was just the opportunity to get close to flowers, fruits and seeds, to admire their detail and mutable colours, and then to take photographs.
Sneezewort and sedge, soft rush and ragwort in its glory….. heather and heath and the tiny eyebright…. pods of broom not even rattling as no breeze shook the seeds inside…. nightshade, yellow vetches, purple knapweeds and perfect blue scabious from which even a small beetle allowed me to focus on as he emerged from a drowsy summer sleep.
As I followed the circuit around the wood, all was shades of green; other colours had to be hunted out, for now is the time of seeding, next year’s flowers are in the making. But here came the challenge…. those annoying, damp-footed flies that only seem to be found in woodland, especially where there are conifers. You know the ones, they have no manners, no reticence, no fear. They hover around your nose and eyes, and buzz at your ears, and don’t even think of opening your mouth. When you swat them away, they shift about a foot, and then back they come.
As I explored the dead-end central path, and looked for opportunities to break into the secretive thickets of gorse and birch where who knows what evidence of the past lie buried, the conditions began to change. First the wretched flies broke the spell, then the sun began to heroically disperse the cloud, and slight breezes began to rustle, so that the flowers no longer posed in stillness. Luckily, fungi do not tend to wave about in the wind, and I found some charmingly deformed chanterelles at the south end, where I retreated under the trees to stay clear of the sun. As well as the chanterelles, there were several edible Tawny Grisette mushrooms. My personal code says don’t pick the only one you see. This means I rarely get to eat this species, as it only occurs as solitary specimens. There was one broken cap, beautiful in the orderly arrangement of the white gills, but as it wouldn’t have made more than a mouthful on its own, I left it on a fungus-stained fallen log to make a spore print – the white spores will leave an ephemeral fungal footprint against the black wood.
By the time I got back to the north end, things were stirring. Dark butterflies and exquisite white moths were busy; the flies continued to be annoying, and I was very glad of the breeze as the day warmed up. Stillness was indeed a gift, but now welcome to the wind!