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December, 2016

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No need of a tornado, and this isn’t Kansas: we step out of our back door and within five minutes know why we love living here. The same walk on two different days becomes two different experiences. Whether we look up or down there are delights. The people we see walking here seem for the most part silver so it must be as good for them as us.

My first five minutes showed me oak in autumn colour, still full-leaved, and bright red rose hips instead of the blackberries I’d have been looking for at the beginning of autumn. Beech might be expected to retain a good supply of russet leaves, but oak in December is unusual: testimony to the lack of November gales.

Visiting some friends at Vicarage Farm means either a drive or hoping the footpaths are dry enough to use. This morning they were, although I knew the friends were away. A little further on and the path turns into woods, light showing through the tunnel with no sign of another house until it bends again past the back gate. Sometimes there are deer along this way, grazing the winter wheat: not this morning, however. The only wildlife was avian, crows or jackdaws and a couple of common gulls, too far off across the field to be more certain. Further on, towards the outer hamlet called Coddenham Green, the gulls were many and the crows few.

Just off the path an abundance of shrubs and small trees suggests a former sunken way they’ve colonised. In the next field we caught sight of a hare last winter; not this time, unfortunately. There were deer prints as the chalk underlying the flattened low hilltops allows a substratum of clay to keep the surface muddy or puddled. Later on the tracks of horses recalled the chase of bygone days before these two were able to make peace. I met just one man with a dog until, on the last leg, a farmer passed on his quad bike.

So, apart from exercise, what was gained? A minute cranesbill, hugging the ground, and further on the beauty of spindle in fruit showed just why it had been used for a necklace many thousand years ago. The old barn I always pass on the way home is still resistant to decay beneath the sentinal oak at the top of the path. It is worth a look inside at what will become industrial archaeology one day.

The final part of the circuit passes the new home built by a couple next to their Tudor farmhouse: understandable if the need for warmth and comfort arises. Back along the medieval path that follows a Roman route and home appears. There was also a second sight of the goose that feels itself part of a herd of cattle. The cattle are gone, probably in winter quarters now so the goose is at a loose end. We just hope it survives until spring, unlike its siblings, because its tale is worth the telling.

A friend discovered four recently hatched goslings in his garden a couple of years ago. There was no indication of how they’d arrived. We assume someone had taken them from a farm in the next village, and they had either struggled into the garden or had been dumped there. No adult goose was in evidence. With the help of a couple of neighbours our friend took them to the pond in a meadow beyond our garden. They survived there for a time then, one by one, three disappeared, perhaps into a marauding fox.

At that time there were no cows on the meadow. The following year a small herd of cows and a bull arrived, brought for summer pasture. The lone goose attached itself to them. This year it seems to have formed a particular attachment to a bull calf, and we have seen them – not quite side by side but clearly an item – walking along the meadow together. The bull calf may be on its way to table by now. The goose has to make the best of its lonely existence. Perhaps there is a Wizard of Oz with the power to assist it. We can but hope.


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