Three months ago the countryside looked very different. The meadows had been under water for weeks. Herons and little egrets took over, inhabiting the liminal layer between rain and floodwater. They seemed to swim through the air half-fish half-bird. Clouds and sky were the same silvery-grey as the flooded fields, trees shape-shifting as gales mixed the air and water to a homogenous whole.
Dog walking was restricted to the lanes and, even here, streams had overflowed across the road, carrying stones, weeds and mud, depositing the debris in hieroglyphic patterns on the tarmac – a liquid language. The banks exuded a dense earthy smell and grass had been combed then left to dry in hanks on the sides of the lanes. Bridges had collapsed, drains were overflowing and sheep huddled in groups on small islands amongst the overspill.
Catkins had dropped and lay in brown shoals in puddles. Buds on the hedgerow stayed closed in defiance of the cold winds, leaving the branches stark against a backdrop of blue ruffled streams. I noticed an anglers’ hut had been built beside the river – a timber and thatch construction that looked like a Hansel and Gretel cottage. A fisherman in khaki oilskins stood motionless waiting for a tug on his line trailing in the water. Further upstream another fairytale shelter had sprung up with another angler attempting to blend with his surroundings. We walked on hoping for a kingfisher. As the river curved round the head of the meadow beneath arching willows, I saw a heron standing still on the edge of the water, outlined sharply as though etched against the background. The beak pointed skyward then downward, spearing the water before I had registered movement. Slowly it took off, a fish hanging from its beak.
It’s nearly the end of May and the world has changed out of all recognition. Now grass has replaced water, trees are cloaked in leaves and the roadsides are frothing with cow parsley, streaked with red campion, bluebells, buttercups and other spring flowers. The cuckoo is singing non-stop and house martins are swooping over the thatch catching insects for their young. I have been abroad for a week and, in that short time, things have changed again. Tomorrow I shall go out and explore this new world.