Enchanted by the changing landscape

THE other evening, venturing forth after the deluges, I walked out of a meadow into the half-darkness of an old beech wood.

The change in light was dramatic: suddenly I was in a deep green world, hushed and still. The ground was carpeted in ivy, the tree trunks half covered in moss. High above, the green canopy was unbroken but for pinpricks of light here and there.

The Spanish poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, wrote a famous poem called The Sleepwalker’s Ballad. The sleepwalker says: “Verde que te quiero verde. Verde viento. Verdes ramas”.

This translates as “Green, how I love you green, green breeze, green branches”. In the cathedral vault under the trees, the light was submarine and dream-like. It seemed the air was green. I could have believed I was sleepwalking.

After a few minutes I arrived in a clearing and a world which, by contrast, was awake and full of life. A hint of a breeze stirred the holly and the leaves shone like silver. Ivy glistened on the tree trunks, and speckled wood butterflies fluttered up and down, jousting and sparring, as if attached to strings. I stopped and looked out over the bay as an angling boat rounded the point and made its way home up the channel. Its bow-wave rolled across the water and for a minute the surf lapped fiercely on the sand. Then silence.

Half a mile away, on the opposite shore, wind surfers were moving in slow motion, their sails bright triangles on the grey water.

There were kite surfers, too; a pair of kites as big as mattresses pirouetted like coloured cut-outs against the green background of the fields.

The sea had a pellucid, oily sheen. Over there, too, there was little wind. The stillness of autumn had arrived early.

Autumn induces reflection. No wonder Keats had written his most famous ode in autumn.

The story goes that on a September evening in 1819, he couldn’t concentrate on his work because his landlady’s daughter was practising the fiddle.

Driven to distraction, he went out and walked through the Winchester water meadows nearby. When he returned, he wrote the poem straight away.

Autumn induced me to reflect, too, but I remembered my dinner would shortly be on the table so I pushed on, out of the woods, onto the cliffs, into yet another dimension of sound and light.

Ireland is marvellous; not only does the weather change every hour, but the scenery changes every few hundred yards.

Here, on the cliffs, the view stretched as far as my eyes could see. The Old Head of Kinsale lighthouse caught a ray of sunlight – the sun seems to appear more often in the evening in our new ‘summer’ clime.

Now, for the first time, the day opened up, as my parents would have put it.

The sky was suddenly blue and the sea azure, flooded with light. I passed the ravens’ nest on the cliffs, now derelict. A chough watched me from a distance.

Through my binoculars I saw the sun gleam blue on its feathers.

A pair of stonechats hopped up, as they always do, to observe passers-by. The cock had a fine russet breast, a jet black head and a pure white collar.

He looked magnificent against the dark blue sky. His hen was no dowdy wife: her breast feathers were as coppery as an autumn leaf.

Then, I saw the youngsters, three of them, no competition for their parents in the beauty department but sturdy little fledglings, precariously riding the briar tips. I took a quick photo and, now feeling positively peckish, hurried on.

My route home took me down a lane through a tunnel of tall ash trees and sycamores. Woodpigeons cooed dementedly, near and far away.

Later, after dinner, I watched from the balcony as thousands of rooks flew in their nightly rituals over the bay. It was a glorious sunset, all reds, blues and purples, and the rooks were black silhouettes against it.

Then, the bats came out, flitting so fast between the trees that for a minute I thought they were nightjars.

They weren’t, but the evening had had other compensations (I reflected) before taking myself indoors.

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Saturday, February 27, 2021

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