Time is stretching. It moves differently here in the Hidden valley.
The new house is talking to me. It’s telling me to write. It’s saying, look at my epic pine trees, listen to the bucolic peace, and for fuck’s sake write something. Well I am. About 15K into a novel, which is a thing that is happening, but life is immeasurably different to six months ago, life that is here in abundance. And so is death. Nature is on display and it’s difficult not to let Mr. Horror Writer out to start describing all the crazy shit. It would be easy to give yourself over to a particularly morbid outlook with the preponderance of animal death that has become nearly a weekly occurrence. From the large to the small. From the winged to the furry.
The sheep that visited us to die slowly on the river bank. A pretty place for it to die, amongst the nettles and pine cones, where it was swiftly consumed by a variety of other creatures. From life to death. From functional to food. Until the farmer came and silently removed it.
Or the mental thrush that flew full speed at the gigantic double-glazed window in Alexis’ studio and broke its neck. We watched it gasp its final, desperate, pained few breaths and then die in the grass.
Or the bat on the floor, or the other sheep out in that field, or the Great Tit behind the wood panelling, or the Chaffinch in the flue.
Or the three dead baby blue tits. Barely formed. Stiffened egg yolk with feathers and beaks and vestigial eyes. Cast from their nest in the eaves and dashed apart on the stones beneath. But the parents returned, hatched more and we hope they survived.
Memento fucking Mori.
But nature nurtures in equal measure.
Like the gooseberry bushes growing from the ruins of an old mill building about twenty metres or so from the house. And from the same ruin, the several mature ash trees exploding up to the sky. Or the wild raspberry bushes and brambles dripping from practically every hill-road verge, poking out between hawthorn, gorse and nettle. Or the feverfew pushing up from beneath the gravel in the front garden. Or the water that rises up out of the ancient mineral-rich rock into a tank, then down a steep embankment in a pipe, across a burn, and by the action of gravity up the hill to the house.
And there is life here in abundance. And I’d happily sit and watch it all day.
The leucistic chaffinch. A white chaffinch with black markings. Shorn of its pigment through some genetic process.
The ubiquitous pheasant. Three of them hanging out on the bridge as I pass in the car. A couple having a natter in the middle of the road, only moving at the most leisurely of paces.
The red-legged partridge! Black grouse!
And… robins, chaffinches, blue tits, great tits, coal tits, swallows, swifts, lapwings, siskins, sparrows, goldfinches, blackbirds, wood pigeons, magpies, ravens, crows (The Crow Wood), starlings, treecreepers, wrens, crossbills, merlin, buzzards, red kites, wagtails, thrushes and woodpeckers off the top of my head.
Flocks of thirty-plus small birds, unidentified as yet, but most likely youthful pheasants, or possibly youthful grouse.
Things on four legs.
Pine martens! Big fluffy beasts, roaming the countryside. Cute as hell, but will take your chickens apart if you leave the coop open.
Roe deer. Singly, in pairs or in tiny family groups, springing through the fields, or by the roadside panicked by the hurtling ton of metal that has just roared around the corner towards it.
Field mice, caught in our kitchen trap – a humane trap, I should add. Made of see-through plastic with air holes, catching Mr Mouse in the act of enjoying a pile of peanut butter. They are then repatriated to the field, across both burns and well off the road. No doubt, they just follow us back to the house the next day and have another peanut-butter-feast and imprisonment session. Cute as they are, they shit everywhere.
Bats. Not sure what type. Possibly Pippistrelles… out at deep dusk they come, from their nests under the zinc ridges on the roof, circling and diving for insects.
Foxes. A cub. Sitting in the middle of the road. Running off at the last moment. An adult, bounding long-legged through a field of knee-high grass. Just yards from the oblivious sheep.
Various scurrying smaller rodents, crossing the road. Rabbits. Hares.
Frogs. Toads big enough and horny enough to sit on one of the substantial toadstools that spore from the damp leaf-litter.
In their hordes. Shiny carapaced beetles and multi-limbed winged things. Midgies, but the less psychotic East-coast variety. Wasps, bees and something I can only hope was a hornet, because if it wasn’t then we’re all in deep trouble.
And the best for last. Spiders. Controversial eight-legged creatures. Feared by many, but gravely misunderstood. Despite their hard work cleaning a house up of mindless little flies, many of you still see fit to expel them in jars and flick them from windowsills. Worse fates await a spider. Flattened beneath a slipper or rolled-up magazine for example.
It’s tough on the small things all round, but to watch them cling on to life through anything, to fight every moment to breathe their last, to live whatever the cost, it’s humbling and terrifying at the same time.
Memento Mori. Remember that you will die.
Just don’t forget to live.