It was well after midnight when the tawny owl began to call. With no wind, the sound seemed unreasonably loud and close at hand; it was probably perched in the large beech tree in the corner of the garden. Minutes passed before the first calls were returned by another, more distant, owl.
I stepped outside, trying to locate the second participant, but could gain only the vaguest impression of direction and distance – placing this owl somewhere across the hill. With the moon below the horizon and a continuous covering of cloud, the darkness was profound – apart from a solitary light in the hamlet across the valley. After several minutes I could make out the outline of the trees and the distant profile of the hills where they stood out against the clouds.
Morning brought a still, overcast sky which drained and flattened the colours of the landscape. The deeply shadowed lane below the beech wood is deserted and almost silent. A short stretch of the road hosts mature trees on both sides, the upper boughs crossing over like the vaulting of a gothic cathedral. From beneath this canopy of branches, the vivid – almost fluorescent – green of the spring leaves stands out against the grey blur of the sky. The vibrant colour is quick to fade, and the interval between brilliant emergence and full, sombre maturity is only a few days, but it forms a marker in the evolving season.
The steep slope of the wood is covered with a mass of bluebells. These blooms are short-lived, becoming pinched and faded as they begin to pass their peak, but for now they are a welcome block of solid colour after the dour shades of winter. A scuffling sound in the hedgebank makes me look down – to discover a young rabbit, barely bigger than my hand, caught between the competing choices of curiosity and flight. Breaking my stride breaks the spell, and it heads off into the undergrowth. It will need to improve its reactions if it hopes to reach adulthood in a landscape rife with dangers.
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