Past the houses, the lane dropped deeper towards the Avon. The tree branches met overhead, forming a green tunnel, and either side the steep banks rose above our heads, thick with bird’s nest fern and a tangle of bracken, bramble and moss. The light was a subtle shade of refracted greens with highlights of colour here and there on the banks of pink ragged robin and the scent of late summer honeysuckle.
There was a tiny movement on the road a few feet in front of us: a small mouse heading the same way. It didn’t notice us waiting until it turned back up the lane. It stopped in the shelter of a bramble reaching out into the lane, and I could only see it in the filtered green brown light because I knew exactly where it was. It must have decided we were not a threat as it started to climb slowly up the nearby bank. We watched as it pulled itself up by its front legs, an effort for such a small creature. It paused and Phil reached out as if to stroke its smooth brown coat. He didn’t actually touch it but it at last showed some sense of alarm and disappeared into the leaf litter and up the bank. I understood Phil’s wish to stroke it. I’d stroked a dead mouse I’d caught in the trap in my father’s kitchen, it had been much fatter and sleeker. We were in the mouse’s world, not it in ours, and I felt glad to see it move away, safe for now.
Earlier we’d had a close encounter with life and death in nature. We’d been following a narrow stream up through a wood and Phil was just about to step into a small clearing when something fell from the sky a yard or two in front of him. Startled, he bent to see what it was: the back half of a small rabbit, still warm, still soft. We couldn’t see any birds overhead but guessed a buzzard flying over the wood had lost its grip on its prey at that precise moment we came out of the trees. We stepped back in case it was waiting to reclaim the rabbit but nothing came.
It was still warm enough the first week in September for there to be plenty of insects in the air and we’d delighted all week in watching the swallows swoop through the air. They would be heading south soon, but not just yet. We were enjoying them again as we walked down a field that sloped steeply towards Aveton Gifford, when Phil spotted smaller birds moving in the hedgerow. A charm of goldfinches flew up into the field, feeding on insects among the thistles and long grass. There were more than 60 of them and they called to each other as noisily as a small bird can, their bright red and yellow feathers flashing in the sunlight as they circled from from the safety of the hedge and then out and up into the open field again.
At last we came down to the river itself. It was low tide, with rivulets of water flowing between the mud banks where swans, geese and ducks chattered and fed. We ate our sandwiches sitting on a log above the muddy roadway, enjoying the peace and timelessness of the place.
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