Almanac: Storm chasing, lichen and muddy boots

I welcome the promise of rain. Our plants desperately need it and I can feel the storm coming. The air feels heavy, the sky seems closer. It is only midday and yet the familiar bright tones of the garden seem washed out in the dim half-light belonging to dusk.

As the clouds roll over the hill at speed, we are pulling on our waterproof coats for the first time in weeks, ready to get outside and be willingly caught in the downpour. The long grass in the meadow is already drenched and water droplets flick up at us as we hike through it.

I have my second and third sons with me today and they run ahead together, slipping a little here and there in the mud, laughing as they do, charging headlong into the wind.

We turn off before the woodland today, taking a newer, southerly path through the lower fields. Only a week ago, the newly sewn crops were almost imperceptible and yet now the fields are a vivd seedling-green. The storm-light brings out the russet tones of the dried grass beside the footpath. Cow parsley is in bloom now, a dusting of white froth along the hedges.

The fallen tree, with its outstretched roots and branches, has been here so long now the path politely curves around it. I call to the boys to wait for me and stop briefly to take a look at the green patches of lichen. Close-up, it is a thriving world of its own.

The ancient byway shines with pools of water, meanwhile our boots become increasingly heavy with the clay soil-turned-to-mud. For a moment, the rain is sideways, blowing down from the higher ground, we brace ourselves against it and then, suddenly, the sun breaks through.

We are close to home now, and take a pause to look over to the distant city through a gap in the hedgerow. We shake off our hoods, exhilarated at the beautifully crisp air that the rain has left behind. We stand together for a few minutes, my arms around my sons’ shoulders, as we watch the storm sweep its way southwards.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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Almanac: An early morning hike through English farmland

This morning I am up early, pulling on my walking boots and heading out into the fields before the day has fully started.

The natural world seems so alive to me in springtime. The hedgerows stretch upwards towards the blue skies, straining to grow.

I instinctively want to steer clear of the nettles that are creeping outwards towards the path, but I know that if I take a moment to crouch down and look closely, there will be delicate white blooms to admire beneath the leaves.

I reach the edge of the little woodland, on such high ground that it can be seen for miles around. I love the grassy slopes, the layers of foliage, the birdsong. There is always a gentle breeze up here, even on a hot summer’s day. Breathing in the cool, clean air, I feel refreshed and alive.

As well as hedges, ditches frequently act as markers between the fields. These paths are virtually impassable in winter due to the heavy clay soil, so drainage is vital and these little sleeper bridges are common.

Climbing uphill again, there are views out to the neighbouring village and glimpses of a little pool of water – a pleasant walk in its own right. Deciduous trees are native here and the local landscape drastically transforms from season to season. April is a palette of greens.

I turn towards home. There is a haze of sunshine in the air and the day is beginning. I can hear a faint rumble of traffic from the south now and occasionally there is a glint of speeding metal on the horizon that gives away the location of the distant road.

The pathways here are ancient byways. No crops will grow in the hardened soil where people have walked for centuries. Either side, pushing through the freshly tilled soil, tiny green shoots are visible.

Almost back now. When I approach the next crossing, birds scatter into the air. Several house martins circle above – we are headed in the same direction. They have seven nests in the eaves of our house and returned to roost last week. I watch them dart back eastwards again, and it helps me pinpoint my home and waiting family.

My boots are left by the back door, disinfected and set aside to dry. A new habit that now feels normal. I arrive in the kitchen, greeted by many excited voices, feeling motivated and ready for the day.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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