NATURALLY THINKING

By Margaret Waddingham

Articles published in the Caundler Magazine

In the middle of a dull winter’s day, it’s nice to think of summer

Good heavens, Christmas is almost upon us again.

And since the last few months have gone past in a bit of a haze and I haven’t been able to get out very much, it seems a good time to think back to a heady day in summer.
Forgive me if you were expecting something a bit holly and ivy-ish but sometimes in the middle of a dull winter’s day, it’s nice to think of summer, so here goes.

We amble a great deal, Genevieve and I (Genevieve being my mobility scooter for those who don’t know me

Especially during the warmer months, and it can easily take us an hour to go to the bottom of Rowden Mill Lane and back. One afternoon during the last week in July I was doing just that, pausing every few inches to look more closely at the verges and hedges. Most of the more showy flowers were over by then and many of the grasses gone to seed, but the Great Willowherb, which has leaves that are more grey than the Rosebay Willowherb, lined the hedge bottoms near what would have been a damp place if we had had more rain.
In Devon this flower is called ‘Codlins and Cream’, perhaps because the colour of the flower resembles a cooked codlin apple mixed with cream. There was some Meadowsweet about still, an almond scented flower that used to be picked in great bunches and strewn before a bride. It was also used medicinally because it has the same properties as aspirin.
The hedges, the darkening green of mid to late summer, were festooned with white Bindweed, whilst spattered amongst the grasses of the verges were little white and pink Field Bindweed, looking like abandoned tutus. These are all of the Convolvulus family. Many of their much better behaved cousins are quite pricey in garden centres.
Also festooned on the hedges was wild Clematis whose creamy flowers turn to little grey mopheads, known as Old Man’s Beard, in the autumn, and garlands of Bryony whose green berries turn to gleaming sealing wax red.

Now and then I stopped to listen and look.

I keep hoping to see hares but they are all out of my range of vision whilst sitting astride Genevieve. I like to listen to whatever birds there are around. Several little flocks, probably of meadow pipits, danced ahead of me from one side of the road to the other, but at this time of the year not much else was singing apart from yellow hammers. There were two of them that day, one nearby and one further away, both seemingly to have forgotten the last bit of their song so that it came out as ‘little bit of bread and no’ without the ‘cheese’ bit at the end. Meadow brown butterflies, gatekeepers and small whites took off continually, sometimes confusing Genevieve for something that she wasn’t. No other butterflies at that time of the day though.
I like to listen to the wind when everything else is silent.
Much as I admire Rupert Brooke’s poetry, I have never actually heard the breeze sobbing in the little trees which was how he described it in his lovely poem about Granchester. Sighing, rushing, moaning, sometimes whining, but I can’t honestly say I have ever heard it sobbing. That probably says more about me than it does about Rupert Brooke.

Anyway, that particular day it was sighing pleasantly, a particularly satisfying sound on a warm afternoon.

About half way along the lane there were more low growing flowers: dainty little Vetches scrambling through the grasses, a stray Buttercup or two, white Clover and several clumps of white Deadnettle. Thistles abounded, mainly two sorts – big, handsome fellows which I think are the Spear Thistle and a much more slender one with several heads, which may, or may not be the Slender Leaf Thistle.
I am open to correction because, as you might have guessed, thistles are not my strong point.
Here and there were the occasional fading stems of Hemp nettle and, at the bottom of the hedge were stiff little Lords and Ladies with their closely packed berries just on the turn to orange.
Some of the bottom berries had been nibbled – insects or mice I wondered?
In the gateways there were big patches of white daisy-like flowers of Scentless Mayweed. I wonder why they seem to prefer gateways? Perhaps because there is less competition from other things.
On one side of the road there is a narrow patch of Pineapple Mayweed, nothing like the other. It is insignificant and low growing and prefers to be almost on the road itself. It smells strongly of pineapples.
At the back of the verge Burrs and Teasel stand proud, and almost hidden from view in a tangle of grasses were some dainty yellow Meadow Vetchling. Down by the bridge the lovely blue Chicory still flowered.
All this but not a sound of an insect – no grasshoppers madly stridulating or bees humming.

At the bottom of the lane I can go no further than the house which stands alone and, still being empty, I turn here and pause.
At present I enjoy the liberty of sitting on this drive and looking round. On the far side, there were big stands of Purple Loosestrife by the river and a small pear tree heavily laden with fruit.
It was a warm, sunny spot and I watched two robins going backwards and forwards between the grass and their nest hidden in the nearby hedge.

There is a small, neat rabbit hole in the bank beneath this hedge.

A baby rabbit sat on each of the warm little hummocks on each side of the burrow, dozing.
The ears of one of these were constantly twitching backwards and forwards and now and then it briefly opened its eyes. It finally hopped away through the hedge and not long after, the other followed it. All young animals have a charm but there is something about a baby rabbit that is especially appealing, though I’m not sure farmers share my opinion.
It was a satisfactory end to that day’s amblings. By now, of course, the hedges have lost their leaves, though still clad with grubby looking Old Man’s Beard and only seed heads remain to show the glories gone by. Even so, there will still be things for the careful watcher to see.

While trying to come to terms with the diagnosis of Parkinsons for her husband last year, my daughter walked in a wood where brightly coloured leaves were falling, ripe nuts were everywhere and fungus of all sorts was growing on fallen trees, and she thought, ‘Autumn isn’t the end of things, it’s the beginning of the birth of something new’.

May you all have a very happy Christmas in spite of everything and let’s hope that we may all look forward to the birth of something new.

About Margaret

Margaret WaddinghamI was born in Middlesex in 1935 and educated at a convent in Rickmansworth. In 1954 I moved with my family to Cranleigh in Surrey where I met and married Brian. We have two daughters and five grandchildren.
For 21 happy years we lived on the outskirts of Guildford, moving to Hatherleigh in North Devon when our children had fled the nest to get on with their own lives.

My love of writing goes back many years but it was not until I retired from RHS Rosemoor Gardens in 1995 that I was able to devote more time to this and my other favourite pursuits, gardening and the countryside.

For many years I was a regular contributor of short stories, poetry, nature and other articles to three women’s national weeklies, periodical regional magazines and local newspapers. I also had a book of the history of a neighbouring village and a couple of books of poetry published.

One day our daughters phoned to suggest, very gently, that they couldn’t get to us quickly in an emergency and that’s how we ended up in Stourton Caundle.

We couldn’t have chosen a better place and although Brian sadly passed away in 2018, I have come to appreciate the village more and more.

Genevieve (my mobility scooter for those who haven’t met us) and I wander the local lanes, drinking in all that is around me and when I can no longer do this I will still have a small, peaceful garden to sit in where nature comes to visit me.