I have decided to add an extra level of interest to the month by taking on the challenge within the boundaries of The Oak By the Rife Local Patch.
The clock ticks softly, almost unnoticed. Beyond the window the air hangs for a moment unbroken, not even disturbed by the purposeful padding of a fox or the whirr of a may-bug's brittle wings.
4.45AM. Sunrise. I tweet a photo of the sun, snapped on my phone from the bedroom window and hurriedly gather my dictaphone and other paraphernalia and head outside to experience the dawn chorus. As soon as I step outside the front door, closing it softly behind me so as to try and not wake up my parents, I am greeted by birdsong. I am the only person in the terrace who is up and about, and I have the street to myself. Almost. A large snail is making his slow and slimy track across the pavement, and I find myself wondering if he is an early riser or simply coming home late from an all-night mollusc rave.
A song thrush is belting out his song, shouting the same phrases repeatedly as though trying insistently to get my attention. A robin's song cuts through at a higher pitch, and the wren ends it's performance with a disgruntled rattle. From the rooftops the amorous wood pigeons provide the base line.
And there they were, squeezed on the top shelf, the last pair in the shop and they happen to be in my size; a pair of bright red wellingtons.
I remembered another pair of bright red wellies. Mud tinted puddles, autumn leaves and conkers. Stretching up to peer through breath-steamed window-glass at small birds visiting food put out by frost nipped fingers. Towering pink spires of foxgloves and the humming of a huge bumblebee, butterflies crowding on purple blooms of buddleia and caterpillars munching my proudly tended nasturtiums, the first strawberry from my garden.
The crunch of pine cones beneath resin-scented trees and the machine-gun-fire of popping gorse seed-pods on days when heathland sand reflected the scorching heat of the sun.
I remembered harvest festivals followed by damp days and fungi forays. There'd be new school uniforms to wear, but in the holidays my red wellies would always be there as my passport to a fascinating world of smells, sounds, and wildlife.
Which means I have to be assaulted by a cacophony of bird song, pause to watch the flies rise from the swirling river, see the white apparition of the barn owl drift across the flood meadows where starlings commute to and fro from the backs of summer-grazing cattle.
The polo fields are busy; rooks strut across the lawns, wood pigeons drape themselves over the top rung of post-and-rail fences. Pied wagtails hurry-dance.
A gateway, iron bordered green, suggests a place to stand, to contemplate a simple field caressed by the sun's evening hand. And all at once the summer air rings triumphant with the scent of elderflower and honeysuckle.
A moorhen called, like an echo of lazy hazy summer afternoons.
A mother duck had settled her brood for the night at the edge of the water, half hidden by tall blades of iris leaves, the yellow flowers of which were held aloft, like standards being flown proudly in the evening sun.
After a ten-hour-long day at work, punctuated only occasionally by the shadow of a passing swift, the last few hours of the day are precious. At this time of year is seems things change rapidly, dragging the season along in a rush; hedgerows grow, flowers bloom and set seed. Turn your back for a few days and the scene changes, creates a new view.
It had been a warm day, and the sun was still just high enough above the roof of the house to catch the end of the garden. Better still, for a short while at least, I had nothing more urgent to do than find a seat there in the remains of the sun and share a quiet hour or so with the bees. Bumblebees were placidly drifting from one flower to another, between pastel pink and deep purple columbines, creamy white firethorn, and spotted tunnels of foxgloves.
but find something just as good!
Although clouds were beginning to gather in the sky the sand retained its stored heat.
My first dragonfly of the year nearly made me drop my sandwich.
A yellow hammer sang appropriately of bread and cheese.
Any open area of the heathland, between the woody stems of heather, was claimed as a scene of industry.
Wood ants trooped back and forth, carrying building materials and stores for their growing nests, carefully skirting the trip wires laid at the entrances of silk tunnels; the front doors of funnel web spiders.
Beneath my own feet, the sandy path was roughly cobbled with chunks of iron-stone.
A woodlark sung its looping melody.
A chiffchaff shouted, trying to make himself heard over the rush of traffic beyond the trees.
Just off the heathland, on the verge beside a busy main road (the A272), less than 10 minuets cycle (via pavement cycle path) from Midhurst, beside a bus stop, a mass of orchids are appearing in the long grass. An exotic looking display, unnoticed by rushing traffic.
The airspace the swifts cut through, is swirling with pointed pied silhouettes of house martins. They are nesting in the eaves of the neighbouring building; an old stone-built priory tucked beside the village church, and on Sundays, or when there is a summer wedding, their bubbling chatter creates beautiful music when combined with the ringing of the church bells.
As we round a corner, a roe doe appears from the hedge and bounces, as though on springs, across the lane vanishing into the field beyond. I'm not sure who was more surprised.
Today's task was to compile the two and prepare the clip to share with you.
(Please excuse the bunting in the background, it is in preparation for a celebration at the weekend!)
Today, we sat in the garden all evening well into the twilight; my loved ones and I. Beneath our feet the grass had been warmed by the sun during the day, whilst between us and around us the air breathed gently. Birds called, the blackbird and the goldfinch. Discussions turned to flowers, and downland sights, as tales of recent walks were shared. Garden chafer beetles whirred. A sleepy bumblebee sought a resting place in the flower border. House martins flicked overhead. The day cooled around us but we did not notice, did not mind, it was a delight to breath the soft fresh air and relax under the fading sky.
Maybe it is because I was a midsummer baby, or maybe there really is magic in the air, but I have always thought there is a feeling of enchantment about Midsummer Eve. All day dull clouds hung, not obscuring the sun but never quite moving along, diffusing the light to a soft glow, steady, unchanging as the long hours drifted on. I took a walk to contemplate, to reflect on the nature of the day. A robin sang briefly. On the lake, a line of mallards swam past, already fading into their muddled patterns of the moult.
The metallic tambourine rattle of a beetle's wing-cases clattered in the leaves of the oak, which have lost their spring shade and are starting to gather the accumulating dust of summer. Swallows swooped low over just mown fields, plucking insects from the pressured air; at last a light rain began to fall.
My thoughts turned to the fairy stories of old, and it was easy to pick out the actors taking their places on the stage. The blackbird played the role of the flautist. The wind moved gently as if practicing it's dance steps.
The hedgerows were clothed in flowers; golden honeysuckle offered forth their sweet trumpets, bramble blossom beckoned bees and blowsy shrub roses left to grow wild filled the air with fragrance. Their truly uncultivated cousins, the hedge-roses, clambered higher, trailing pastel pink kisses.
Strains of music floated in my head, as if half-remembered, but try to listen to them and they'd fade, disappear like the raindrops on the rose petals that melt at the brush of a curious hand.
Would Puck or Pan be found here, where the grasses shift in the shimmering evening light, telling stories or playing his pipes, as fairies danced at the edges of sight?
Most of my flowers are best enjoyed in their natural setting, rambling and billowing through the flower borders, (including self seeding and creating unexpected and delightful combinations such as the pink hardy geranium mixed with the frothy lime lady's-mantle).
But the sweet peas are grown for the timeless pleasure of pottering around with a pair of scissors, picking the long stems with their sun-warmed silken blooms, and bringing them inside in little posies to scent indoor rooms. The secret with sweet-peas, as I have learnt from my Great Granddad's advice passed down the years, is that the more you pick, the more flowers you get to enjoy. And the first is always the sweetest. Every now and then through the evening, (if you can drag yourself indoors from the garden when the long light hours seem enchanted), a waft of sweet soft fragrance will gently nudge you when you least expect it, lifting your senses and your spirit, as though reminding you of the magic of midsummer.
One of my favourite hobbies/bad habits (delete as appropriate) is peering over hedges and fences. I love to sit on the top deck of the bus, to see beyond the winding verges into the fields and hidden corners, and catch those glimpses of views you can only see if looking in the right direction at exactly the right moment. I can never pass a country gateway, without stepping into it, or up onto its bottom rung, to satisfy a child-like curiosity about the world it invites the passer by to enter.
Today I was peering over makeshift gates, between roadside trees, into the local allotments. I am always inspired by the unintentional artistry of the ramshackle constructions, unexpected plant combinations and escapees such as the salad crops that have bolted to seed or the clashing fiery petals of marigolds juxtaposed with frothy foliage of fennel. I must clarify that I simply pass by these personalised plots on my walk, not set them as a destination, but there never fails to be something that catches my eye and draws me in. Today it was red poppies.
Pausing beneath the sheltering branches beside the lake further along the lane, during a particularly persistent shower, I was pleased to see I wasn't the only person to brave the rain for pleasure.