Saturday was our first full day on the farm. I never really need to set an alarm as I'm almost always awake before dawn and I'm one of those people who can't lie in bed and do nothing, especially when there are 700 acres waiting to be explored right outside the door. So by 5.15 a.m. I was walking down the familiar path through the woods to the fishing pond and the paddocks beyond. The sky was red with a shepherd's warning but what clouds there were didn't look too threatening. From the bushes beside the path came the sounds of a family of wrens and I soon picked them out, scurrying like tiny brown sprites among the undergrowth.
Behind the pond stands a venerable old oak, lonely in his potato field. Just like an old man, much of his foliage on top has long gone. He has raggedy limbs that stand proud from the top like the antlers of some great stag and his trunk is riddled with holes large and small. But still he stands, providing homes and shelter for a million different creatures. I spotted a movement from the corner of my eye and a barn owl drifted silently into view over my right shoulder. She swooped up into the uppermost branches of the stag oak and perched in the early light. Her attention was captured by something hidden from my view by what foliage the oak still has and I watched and sketched as she laddered down through the branches. Eventually she worked her way around to the opposite side of the tree. I didn't see her come out so, after changing my position several times and searching for a glimpse of her, I came to the conclusion that she must have gone to roost in one of the many holes in the old boy's trunk. Last year he played host to a family of kestrels so this year it seems only fair that it should have been the barn owls' turn.
I wandered up to anther of the stag oaks, the one that I know as 'the little owl tree.' There, sitting at the entrance to a perfect owl hole, was a second, grumpy looking little owl. As I watched he moved to the top of his tree, surveyed his territory from the vantage point and enjoyed the golden early light. When I moved on I felt the moisture from the dew as it soaked into my boots. When I looked down I saw a tiny frog, and then another, and another. They are such vulnerable creatures, snack sized for so many, that Nature has had to come up with a breeding strategy for the frog that combats the enormous losses that the young suffer. Hundreds of offspring are produced and this ensures that the fittest and the luckiest survive to continue their line.
The rookery by the church came to life in a cacophany of sound and a myriad of black shapes moved in a chaotic ballet against the rich hues of the sunrise. The early start was worth it for this experience alone, I breathed the air deep and the images imprinted themselves on my mind.
I took one of the longer walks around the farm, up to where the yellowhammers sing their song of bread and cheese from the tops of the hedges. I stopped to eat blackberries, some succulent and sweet, others tart and refreshing, all were dew soaked, delicious and fresh straight from the brambles.
When I returned to the pond I watched a hobby as it powered into an attack on a flock of swallows, swooping, diving, jinking and swerving, it was a stunning display of aerobatics and a suitable point to return to the cottage for (a second) breakfast.
The day was spent playing badminton, fishing, swimming and playing table tennis and the whole thing was rounded off with a barbeque, some beers and some board games. Ahh! What a way to live!
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