Friday, 10 April 2009

alternative wildlife

At the end of my small garden is a mixed-native-tree hedge. We planted it about 10 years ago and it contains hawthorn, beech, holly and hornbeam. It has developed into a beautiful good old-fashioned hedge such as surrounded most fields here in Gloucestershire when I was a kid. As such, it provides not only a secure and attractive backdrop to the end of the garden but a haven for wildlife. It might only be 40 feet long but you would be surprised at how many visitors it gets.
The garden also contaons a stand of three closely planted silver birches which by clever design, makes the garden feel more soacious and whose white trunks stand out strikingly againt the backdrop of the rest of the garden.
As a result, the birdlife is very varied. At any time one might see thrushes of various kinds, blackbirds (who at this time of year are shameless in their pursuit of each other for breeding purposes!), flocks of goldfinches and long-tailed-tits and a couple of fat pigeons who may well end up in a pie at some point.
The hedge seems to allow passage of the avian visitors from the nearby common and woods. It seems to be a very welcome sanctuary and causeway linking various other oases of wilderness together.
The hedge stands on a bank: Once a wall marking an ancient field boundary, it is now covered in soil and looks very naturalised.
Often, i work from home here at the dining room table or upstairs in the spare room where I have an office of sorts. Being a sociable creature, I do miss human contact when I work from home. Eventually, I find myself talking to the walls, or to my chilli seedlings on the propagator on the window ledge. I even occasionally, near the end of a long day, get small terse replies. Chillis are not great conversationalists and walls are notoriously tight-lipped.
So, it did not seem strange to find my underfed imagination set to work one day to allow me to see the other inhabitants of the hedge.
At first it was a feeling of being observed. No human could be seen, indeed, the garden and house are not overlooked.
But there was that nagging sense of someone watching me.
Not being a believer in such whimsical notions as any form of "sixth sense" (though five seems inadequate to describe the subjective experiences we have on moment-by-moment basis: What about hunger pangs and "heeby-jeebies"?) I dismissed th enotion.
But it persisted. And one day, glancing up unexpectedly, I saw a tiny green face barely bigger than a 50p piece staring at me from between the hawthorn leaves.
It looked unblinkingly at me for a few moments, a slight smile on its lips, before retreating back into the undergrowth. I blinked a few times before shaking my head and resuming my dull emails.
But gradually, other faces occasionally started to show themselves.
I initially dismissed them as pareidolia: That tendency to see patterns of faces in clouds and wood grain and suchlike that is a quirk of the human brain.
But then one day in Autumn, they finally showed themselves in full. A group of tiny people, about six inches tall, climbed down the retaining boards at the bottom which served initiall to hold the soil back before the roots took hold. They seemed very confident, although they moved quickly, as small creatures often seem to do.
A rag-tag bunch of tiny men, all in brown-green clothes, some with grass capes, others with tiny turned over wellingtons that look like they might once have belonged to action man who was now forced to carry out his missions barefoot. They carried small pointy sticks and had little baskets which contained such things as acorns, ash keys, sycamore "helicopters" and the odd shiny thing which I could not make out. I think they have a penchant for shiny things which is why car keys occasionally go missing.
The looked around showing a prudent vigilance but not in any nervous sense. Down they came to the pond and filled up little skin bags with water, lowering them down on wat appered to be the pudding string I used to keep in the kitchen drawer but which had mysteriously vanished at Christmas when the turkey needed preparing.
A cat appeared suddenly on the fence and looked down at them with what seemed to be mild fear and trepidation and then proceeded after some moments consideration, to clean itself distractedly.
They paid it no heed and carried on with their task.
The one of them, a wizened chap with a beard and tiny flat cap, looked straight at me and winked. I was taken aback and just smiled a gurn of confusion back at him as best I could manage.
Then quickly and with no signal, they hauled up their buckets and glancing about them, trekked back across the lawn where they disappeared into the stems of the bamboo thicket.
I blinked a couple of times and wondered briefly if there had been hallucinagenic bread mould on my sandwiches or similar.
And then, there was the bearded face grinning at me from the bamboo stems, just for a moment, gap toothed and mischevious.
And then it was gone.
I don't see them often, only occasionally. But they leave me presents of crab apples in September, wild garlic and small garlands of daisies, the design of which leads me to suspect feminine hands at work in whatever community they live in.
In return, I leave them food. I know they are fond of stilton. Oddly, they seem to prefer the rind and so this is what I believe is called a "win-win". And sometimes, on days such as the equinox in spring, or winter solstice, i leave them a miniature of port which I purloin from hotel rooms. After that I don't usually see them for a few days.
But in a world of keyboards and GPS, of phone masts and low-emission cars, it is comforting to have my little friends there, just out of sight. I am not sure if others see them. But I do. They brighten up the periphery of my world.
Keep an eye out round where you are. With regional variations, I am sure they must be around.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your description of the garden is so amazing and captivating.
Nice writing!! Congratulations Pete.
Btw, I learnt about 10 words from your article.:)
Cecilia P