The mackerel shoals have deserted. Slowly the grey dawn brightens. The first sign that winter is just round the corner. The first real frost. And it brings joy. And not just because the grass grows no more, and there will be no mower.
It is a day when the slow amble round to the chicken hut is marked with deep prints in the grass. And you know those prints will see the day out. A frozen trail, scuffing through the fronds; embedded as weight bears down.
By the time a similar line of prints crabs beneath the washing line the sun has cleared the hilltop. Slowly the melt line creeps down the grass. Left too long the laundry will be naturally starched, but smelling fresh. Starch, oh goodness there’s a smell from long ago, the spray over a hot ironing board. When did that last fill the air?
The air is still, marred only by the steady dripping as the maple sheds moisture quicker than leaves. The hawthorn hangs on to its leaves yet; the dogwood long since given up the battle, and a crimson carpet evidence of that brief palette.
Across the road the bull has gathered his harem. It was noisy while it lasted. But now the silence is enough for the robin to make his voice heard. He’s in the dogwood, somewhere. And the sun creeps further over; glistening on the rowan berries, bright red against the saltire hues, leaves dappling from green to burnt sienna, clinging on yet.
It is the perfect day for The Grasshopper to appear. The excuses recede. The parcel delivery van is ahead of time; the postie brings little to detain. The sore leg might just benefit from a turn at the cranks. The ice has melted, save for the shady recesses that the sun will not reach until the solstice is months gone. It has to be. And it has been a while. There will be pain, and sweat. The groceries can wait; the family won’t starve, certainly not the cat
It takes a while to prepare. Oil, air for tyres – if only the old lungs had the same capacity. And then the important stuff. The mirror’s not on the helmet – is it in the car or the kitchen? And finally the jockey. Contact lenses, oh the irritation. Some hot rub on that problem leg, after the contact lenses, careful now. Full gloves I think, layers and layers of lycra. And the camera bag, strapped to the rack. It’s that sort of day. Stop putting it off; get out there, enjoy.
And I did, both. I’d forgotten the problems with the chain in 1st gear, the ones that were slowly making a better climber of me, forced into using 2nd. It was slow but good, more photographs than miles, a bit of blethering and a few waves.
All around the colours bounced back the bright sunshine. Berries and crinkling leaves. Hilltops. I turned back at one stage, to watch a buzzard, through a long lens, after a pair had taken to the air. One perched on the point of a spruce, bending to the horizontal under the weight. But the camera wanted to focus only on the few tall grass seed-heads between shooter and target, the one I could see clearly but the camera couldn’t.
So I waited and I watched. After 20 minutes or so, with the burn bubbling away behind me, with chill air and an old bladder, it was time to move. The buzzard must have felt the same, for as I stowed the camera and readied to roll once again, she of course took to the air. And she glided overhead, wing tips fanned, bristling in the breeze. There was laughter in the air, and it wasn’t mine.
And all the way home word was out, and buzzards rose, and circled, gliding against the blue, safe from peering lenses. It was good to get out.
We must do it again, soon. Weather permitting.