Friday, 21 February 2014

A February evening at Otmoor 2014

Otmoor presents an apocalyptic vision viewed from the top of the hill at Beckley. Water as far as one can see. I am unused to this and feel a slight unease. The comfortable familiar image has gone to be replaced by something strange and unnerving. Nature has pushed back the boundaries of comfort, changed the land and resurrected echoes of the primal fears our ancestors must have felt at the surrounding and then much more dangerous landscape.

I view the floods from the gate by the bridleway. My hands rest on the cold steel of the gate. The bleak waters  mirror the grey blue sky and look as cold as my hands are. All is the colour of the dead, browns of various hues, earth to earth bisected by the pale orange of the dead reeds. A slash of green grass adds bright contrast to this almost monochrome vision.

A stray clump of Snowdrops cannot dispel the still over riding sense of winter. Overwhelmed by the landscape. Cowering in the bottom of the hedge tangle. Each flower's fragile parasol of petals hang open like a bedside Tiffany Lamp. White with delicate green undersides 

Lapwings stand in lines across the flood looking like the tops of submerged fenceposts jutting above the waters. Hunched into the wind. Resting but ever alert. Others, possibly local are restless and already displaying to a mate on tiny areas of bare ground above the flood. They bow their breasts to the ground on flexed legs, tails pointing skywards, calling peevishly to their mate.

The empty, wind scudded sky suddenly fills with birds. Great whorls of Lapwings, flashing black and white, yin and yang, rise and wheel in brief alarm and form up in great flocks to come back to land. Golden Plover ascend high into the sky, so many they are individually indistinct but the huge numbers make the flock look like dispersing smoke. A pale brown smudge in the distant sky. Seven Pintails arrow upwards from beyond the far hedgeline, fast, hurtling at breakneck speed  into the sky. Perfection in formation. Precise. Extended necks and attenuated tails accentuate the streamlined speeding image. They circle once and fly downwind at great speed. Gone

A Kestrel rides the chill air. Blown downwind it turns into the wind and stalls. Hanging there motionless. Held by the air. Its element. Something we can never know. The world seems to stop with it.  A catch of breath. Just a fraction of time as it hovers and then time moves on again.

Fieldfares, feathered Vikings, chacker overhead into skeletal treetops. Going to roost. The survivors of the hordes that invaded our land in the autumn. These are the strongest or luckiest. Proud and haughty they land in the very tops of the trees bills pointing to the sky in the north before flying off to roost.

The City of Oxford is but a short way over the hill but in the slowly enclosing dusk the world and ways of humankind are here, on  Otmoor,  for just a brief hour, many miles away. Almost forgotten. Something precious, intangible and elusive slips briefly into my consciousness but then is gone. Bitter sweet.

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