I’m lucky enough to live in the Cotswolds and lucky enough to have a view out of my back window (photo above) that inspires me no end. I’m also lucky enough to have a view out of my front window (two below) that is equally as impressive. Falling away from our cottage is five or so miles of vale. Trees and fields and lanes. Do I often wander out into that gorgeous scene? Alas, no. Not lately. Not as much as I should and would like.
Now, I’ve a lot on my mind of late – haven’t we all? – what with the editing of Black Guild, the sequel to my debut epic fantasy Black Cross, and intrusive thoughts about what’s going to happen in the third book, Black Prince. I also have the second year of my optical diploma, the start of Wifey’s catering business, work in general and being a father to boot. Sometimes it all gets a bit much and my head feels like it’s going to pop! This evening was one of those times. Wifey, Poppet and I had a rare but lovely family day out in Banbury today, but upon our return home, my eye twitched, my hands rubbed my face and I just needed a little head space. Wifey suggested I sat out back, by the fire pit, but I went one better instead.
Donning my trusty wellies and a warm coat, I grabbed the torch and headed out into the dusk light of the vale. I wandered into the field opposite the cottage (just up the hill from the photo above) and stood there. Just stood there. The light faded and I stood and listened. There’s no roads by us, not that you’d hear, and the village is tiny and produces no noise or ambient light (no street lamps here). I stood and watched the darkness descend and just listened to… well, everything! It struck me just how noisy a quaint, peaceful countryside field is at dusk. I wouldn’t have thought it. Now, it’s not the first time I’ve been out in the vale at dusk. I was once caught out minus my torch whilst a mile down the hill from home. I never really paid much attention to my surrounds on that night however, as I rushed back, flinching at the clatter of wings from pheasants and the sudden appearance and disappearance of deer. Tonight though, tonight I stopped and listened…
The grass makes sounds, I swear it! As I stood there, the field dropping down to cow sheds to the west, paddocks to the south and a tree-lined track to the north; the hill rising east to the handful cottages, I heard tapping in the bullock-cropped grass. I never quite figured out what the rapid tapping was, but I reckon it must have been rodents scurrying around and going about their business, surely? There’s enough around us if the well fed kestrels and owls are anything to go by. I also listened to the shifting and snorting bovine beasts in their sheds to the west and east of my position. One 200 yards off, one 300, and yet they sounded closer and they sounded their size, too. Despite knowing what and where they were through experience of my surrounds, I just ‘knew’ that they were big. They sounded bigger than the other, smaller sounds both in the grass and in the bushes and hedges and trees;.those three places made a lot of noise too. Many birds sounded, from roosting birds to distant, eerie woodland calls of pheasants and owls. The cows though, and the horses in the paddocks, sounded big and loud and, dare I say it, intimidating.
All of the sounds above struck me the more I listened. My breathing sounded louder too, as did any movement I made. I felt open and exposed and, despite knowing my surrounds and feeling comfortable, at east and relaxed as it got darker and darker and my torch remained off, I felt out of touch with what was an incredibly normal dusk for every other creature surrounding me. And there were many surrounding me, big and small. It struck me just how noisy dusk is and just how many creatures are active at that time. I’ve rarely watched or read the like in fiction, but what I have watched and read, but before now never experienced, is the knowing, just knowing, that something has changed. That something is afoot in the fields and trees and hedges about you. I felt it, I truly did, but I felt it – I believe – because everything else around me felt it first, and reacted to it. It was that reaction and I felt and, well, reacted to myself.
The fox had arrived. The snorting of cattle and horses changed, grew louder, more forceful. There were no large animals within a 200 yard radius and yet suddenly they felt and sounded very close indeed. Bird noise changed, not the warning calls I would recognize, but just changed, subtly. I saw a horse dance across the paddock below me, kicking out as it ran whereas it and its fellows had been stood still before. And then I saw the fox enter my field. I squinted at first because it was just a movement in my periphery. But there it was, skulking along as they are wont to do. Nothing unusual for our village – many villages, towns and cities, in fact. The photo above was taken in my garden. But what was unusual, to me right then, was how it made sense to see it, seconds after the environmental reaction I’d witnessed. The cattle couldn’t have seen the fox. I’m not sure the horses could have, but they all knew. The cute little critter isn’t even a threat to them, but their behavior changed, I promise you that! Why? Instinct? To warn other animals? Who knows – likely some biologists, no doubt. The point is, going out to clear my head and having the opportunity for that out to be a ‘quiet’ field with no one else about at dusk, taught me a great deal about dusk in the countryside. About the noise and the animals and their behavior. It also taught me how out of tune I’ve been to my surrounds and how in tune the wildlife – and livestock – are to it, despite the dark and maybe even especially because of the dark!? When something changed, in this case a predator, the noises changed, and the feeling. There’s something in that. Something we are all far too removed witness, at least usually, any way. But it happens and it happens all the time, out there and around us. The characters we write and read and love should know that too, especially if they live rural lives. If they travel the wilds. They should know that and I shall endeavor to make sure mine do in the future.
Anyhow, I’ve waffled on enough, but I thought writers, and reader, and wildlife lovers might like to hear about my little experience tonight. I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the above, or your own experiences? Whack ’em below if you have time.