Saturday, 7 August 2021

Establishing my Apprenticeship

 A spell of really wonderful weather and it's my fourteenth visit to my field.  This apprenticeship is serving me well: now I'm getting much better at observing rather than judging.  Near the field entrance the docks and grasses continue to stretch skyward, such a contrast in scale with the tiny Scarlet Pimpernel at their base.  The docks are ginger-red and fluttering through and around them are meadow browns and large skippers.  Further into the field are cabbage whites.  Insects are everywhere: bees, flies of many sorts hovering and landing where they will.


From a distance the field gives the impression of a cricket pitch in waiting, a perfect uniform green that on closer inspection turns out to be weeds sprinkled liberally over the ground.  And here's a theme, things aren't quite what they seem.  Just because an area is left to re-wild does not mean that everything growing there is wild.  As I walk the perimeter I discover golden rod and Michaelmas daisies in the field margins.  Also, among the grasses I've so admired, are wheat and barley.  They again do not have the perfection of those I see in the large Norfolk fields, but maybe I've got that wrong too, and even those in other fields are flawed, their growth also at the mercy of weather and soil conditions.

The moles have been active again and within the field margin I notice a fox's scat and nearby pigeon's feathers.  A single young hare runs away from where his nest may once have been and much further round a bird (most likely a pheasant) runs decoy across the top of the field.  I walk on and there are cries of alarm low down in the undergrowth.  I move slowly on, talking softly to myself and there is quiet.

Finally, I'm seated in the peace taking in the twist and turn of blades of grass, the sunshine and shadow, the light and dark.

* * *

One week later and I'm back again. It's lovely weather.  I have pared down my kit and will concentrate today on drawing.  I have been reading Kurt Jackson's Sketchbook, recommended by Shelly Rhodes. I park the car and next to it notice a gap in the hedge, not all the way to ground level but a sort of aperture, displaying for me a tangle of brambles, a few specimen leaves and odd twigs.  My papers are clipped to a board, likewise my screw-capped water holder, the paint palette is resting on the car's roof.  Though I don't manage to create the feeling of enclosure, in fact I don't think about it at the time at all. I like my sketch, or maybe what I like is my endeavour and my lack of self-consciousness.  KJ mentions scratching the paper surface, which I have tried before, but need to practise a time or two before I next venture out.

It's a day of signals; the wind flutters the large leaves I've noticed in the field, some sort of temporary planting -- time will tell; they're like prayer flags.  Also clinging to the occasional spent stem are tiny white feathers designating the place as special.  And luminously, star-like are the tufted tops of Bearded Hawkswell, ready to communicate with anywhere the wind chooses.  White too are the many butterflies dancing above this mystery crop.


The seeds of old docks continue to ripen, rust-red and elsewhere in the field margin are a new tender crop, nature's succession planting.  The arcs of golden grass are still there, their seed spilt.  And all along the margins seem to be resting places, crushed grassy nests.  Though I don't know what feels safe in these places I do meet a pheasant who rushes noisily away, and a hare, a larger one than last week, who leaves the safety of the shadows and runs in a great distracting arc from behind me and away across the field.  Birdsong, butterflies, a tiny pale green moth that flutters and lands folding its wings to become a leaf. I glance down and see a grasshopper jumping through the leaves: such wild and lovely diversions.


It's now the beginning of August; there's been so much rain that the entry to the field has been flattened; the pathway to my observation spot is now clearly defined.  A lone bird sings teasingly and clear.  It's not alone, as I walk the bounds others join in.  Butterflies are everywhere, from a flutter of Brown Meadows at the entrance, to a single Red Admiral at the bottom of the field. Cabbage Whites are everywhere, as they were last week.  Insects abound: bees, wasps, flies, gnats and one spider, who having woven a complex wrapping round a tender shoot, abandons it as I advance.  There is a busyiness in the field's life: throughout groups of Brown Hay Mushrooms have sprung up; moles continue colonising two edges of the cultivated centre, and though there is a paucity of growth in the areas shaded by trees and the high hedges, the ebb and flow of plants sprouting and decaying continues leaving me to marvel at the tender and the tough and the parachuting seed heads drifting by.

Shaded Area


 Queen Anne's Lace Seed Head

Spider's Web

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