Monday, 17 January 2022

I’m feeling romantic as spring approaches, so I go down on one knee...

I’m feeling romantic as spring approaches, so I go down on one knee...

TODAY starts off with a loud clunk at about seven o’clock, a delivery through our letterbox. I open a padded bubble bag and am delighted with the contents.

I present Rosemary with a sterling silver infinity ring, which fits her finger perfectly.

In turn she passes me another package. It is a book entitled Oxfordshire’s Threatened Plants, which was co-written by my friend and fellow naturalist Camilla Lambrick.

It is an exceptionally good, well written, detailed and informative work.

I am referenced as a recorder, as is our close friend Dave Kenny. Recognition at last.

However, skimming through this otherwise superb book, I see that two of my discoveries, notably mezereon (Daphne mezereum) at Bottom Wood on the Hardwick Estate in 1999 and wild candytuft (Iberis amara) in 2002 at South Unhill Bank, near Moulsford, have been credited to others, the first 10 years after my report.

I always relay my findings immediately to the relevant bodies, so this is annoying and I am not happy. After all, I’ve got a “knack” for coming across rarities.

Rosemary and a mutual friend tell me to calm down and simply forget it.

The book’s register also omits the Latin names from M to O in the initial index, which I presume is a mishap.

Anyway, enough of my moaning. Rosemary calls me “grumpy bum” and she may have a point.

I’m determined to find a ghost orchid. I know where they have been found in the past so we’ll be on hands and knees with torches at night as the ephemeral flowers blend in so well with fallen beech leaves.

They are only visible for a few days before a sudden retreat. Leafless, they were last reported locally in 1986. If anyone is going to find one I think that it might be me, so watch this space.

Before we head out for a walk we visit Marsh Lock on an angry, roaring River Thames.

It is a mightily cold day but we are dressed for whatever the elements throw at us. Not surprisingly, there are few people about.

It would have been Rosemary’s late husband Bruce’s 72nd birthday. With the greatest respect, we throw small tokens to him into the freezing, swirling eddies. We hope that he knows somehow.

There are few birds about, just a few mallard ducks and black-headed gulls that are grateful for the high-quality bread that Rosemary supplies.

No mute swans, great crested grebes or coots. They must all be hunkered down in cosy private retreats.

On our way back, we encounter a pair of Egyptian geese. Amusing creatures with red shanks and feet.

The river looks leaden. Icicles dangle from a willow’s twigs like Christmas decorations.

Another frozen “komodo dragon” is motionless at the weir. A yellow buoy warns river traffic of a gravel bank.

Contemplating the sometimes violent, powerful flow of the Thames, I think of one of my favourite poems by Apollinaire, Le Pont Mirabeau. Here is my rough translation:

Under Mirabeau bridge flows the Seine
And our love
Do I have to recall
that joy always follows pain

Come the night, sound the hour
The days go by but I remain.

Holding hands, we look at each other face to face
Whilst under the bridge of our arms flows
the tired stream of everlasting glances.

I am always moved when I read this poem.

After a brief but expensive visit to Tesco (it was that “essential” wine) just around the corner, we return home to plan our proper outing to Newnhamhill Bottom, where we have not set foot since last summer.

This is a very special place that lies between Stoke Row and Witheridge Hill. I love it here as it looks like it probably did hundreds of years ago.

I want to see the condition of the large, soft shield ferns and the ancient trees that we admired months ago. A bonus is that it is not raining, sleeting or snowing.

Rosemary parks the car just beyond Bush Wood and we head north-west towards Oakingham Bottom that leads on to English Farm. This is classic south Chiltern countryside and surely cannot be bettered anywhere in England. Forget all the guff in the Sunday colour supplements that always lauds the Lake and Peak Districts, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Yorkshire and more. We prefer the simple, pure beauty on our doorstep.

It is a true wonder out here, the forces of nature unstoppable.

We are greeted by huge spreads of shining snowdrops and yellowish male hazel catkins as they float in late winter air — a splendid sight, which heralds spring.

A green woodpecker sounds some way off and is welcome.

Beech, cherry, oak, hazel and holly seem to envelop the two of us in a warm embrace. We both feel so at home in woodland.

To our right is a lovely “shaw” of beech that decorates the skyline on a gentle incline across a dewy, lilting field. Splendid.

Although it is still winter, there is such promise with plants ready to burst, trees seemingly smiling, ready to throw themselves into another summer of magnificence. Some seem to be gurning.

The sky appears to change colour on the slightest whim from yellow to white and then blue.

We find some arboreal casualties, whether through old age or the force of gales I don’t know. They will feed the greedy but very important insects and soil that nourishes our planet.

Suddenly my left knee caves in and I fall over. The meniscus has snapped again (an old football injury).

I’m helped to my feet by Rosemary and two passing walkers, Jo, a hockey player from Leeds, where I was once a student, and her friend Alice plus a dog called Reggie.

I am grateful — at over 6ft tall and more than 12 stone in weight, I am not that easy to manoeuvre.

I’m mightily embarrassed and most appreciative. I can’t thank these women enough.

Back home, I sit outside in a snowdrift and watch the birds and other animals in our garden.

Grey squirrels, which can be pests, are hilarious to watch with their silly antics. They never seem to touch the ground.

A female sparrowhawk shoots through our trees with astonishing agility, dodging every branch but captures no prey. Maybe the word is out among the smaller birds.

It is my turn to cook again, so I’ll whip out my wok and prepare stir-fried beef in oyster sauce and egg-fried rice. Rosemary is a lucky woman, I say.

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