One wanted to make a moth lure; the other to wield the mallet. Tent pegs were duly hammered home, though the soft dry ground needed no persuasion to yield.
The night had arrived, Big Wild Sleep Out; they hadn’t forgotten. Binoculars and cameras; notebooks and pens; stoves and sleeping bags. A stray receipt left inside confirmed the last use of the wee tent, for wee weekends away, almost three years ago – Alnwick, the Poison Garden – and memories were found as the hot chocolate simmered.
Knowing full well how few the hours of darkness would be, how little time between dusk and dawn, expectation for energy for little wildlife walks was pretty low. But we’d arranged for other entertainment as well. Two tents were erected, the second coming out of the bag for the first time, sans instructions, which is always fun.
But we managed, though it was no ordinary tent. The Garden Observatory was set up, telescope safe inside. Then the software, the camera, and the laptop. For some time we’d promised The Urchins a bit of moon watching, realising that images on screen would be an awful lot better than an eye to a lens. But when the skies are clear, the moon bright, it’s usually because the temperature is sub-zero, hence the tent, with removable roof, in whole or in part.
There’s enough room for the family, for chairs, and a stool for the laptop; and for a little gas stove on winter nights. Stargazing for Softies will be with us soon. But Midsummer Night is not ideal. The night itself starts late. We were blessed with clear skies, in the main, after a week of wind-free sunshine and temperatures to tempt old cyclists out on most days. But in the east, above the tree lined slopes, clouds gathered. We would have to wait, and wait.
And as we waited the sun eventually set. Horizons were rimmed in red, fading gently. The stand of Scots pines across the way rustled as the rooks rested for the night. Moths began to appear, ignoring the little lure of honey and fruit. Ornamental grasses, fluttering above the roof of the shed, rustled as wraiths weaved a way between stems. These were moths, of some size, monsters perhaps. Closer by smaller winged beasties fluttered round the beech hedge. My mind turned to the horrors of the clothes moths inside, and mutterings not fit for Urchins’ ears.
The barn owl held his roost, determined not to give in to The Watchers in the Dark. But we didn’t get beyond those times of gloaming, forced to seek shelter as the night monsters launched their attack. Sleep came quickly, as a distant bull told the world of his activities, nocturnal conquests perhaps.
It was a full-blown seige that was laid, for they were still there after the dawn chorus quieted. We had intended poking noses and cameras through the tent flaps in the early hours. But sleep overcame, and the chorus drifted by as we dozed dreamily on, refusing to be fully awake. A quick blast with the heater took the early chill off the air. Then came the sun, relentless as it had been all week, unusually so, and before long it was fresh air that was demanded in the inner sanctum. But it was not to be.
And as we had been forced to do when the dusk crept slowly on, we sought the safety of the citronella. For in Big Wild Sleep Out terms there is only one monster to be feared, the king of the skies, scourge of the bare, the mighty midgie. It is proving to be an awful year for them. The oil burner that has lain unused for many years, and the height of fashions that is the midge net, have been in heavy use.
The moon didn’t play ball either, in its final quarter, barely a sliver, hidden by clouds and probably eaten by those bloody midgies, for it is made of cheese isn’t it? Anyway, they had a ball, slept well, and are reinvigorated for a bit of sky watching. And the Garden Observatory could well be in good use in the months ahead, when the skies darken earlier, winter too perhaps, with the stove burning and the tent protecting. And the midgies gone.