I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say it. Is it acceptable to have really enjoyed lockdown?
I guess I started out with such low expectations – it’s November, after all – that it wasn’t hard to beat them. There were some low points; finding out a friend was in hospital with Covid was one of them (thankfully, he is now on the mend), as was the nagging worry of all the small business owners struggling to stay afloat.
But I think it’s most constructive to actively support local businesses in every way you can and aim to keep your own spirits high. So, we’ve had take-aways from our pub down the road, had the driveway resurfaced by a local tradesman with gravel from a nearby quarry and acquired some beautiful homemade lampshades for our wall lights.
In many ways, this November has been even bleaker than usual. As I looked back at my photos from last year, it was all bright yellows, oranges and reds. In contrast, our world has been more in sepia these last few weeks, with our first frost arriving at the start of the month. Yesterday had a high of a whole four degrees, with thick fog refusing to lift all day.
But there has been much to appreciate too.
It’s been the first month of lockdown where I’ve been feeling fighting fit; which has enabled me to absorb the garden and its ever-changing ways in a whole new level of detail. Watching each corner of the garden evolve in slow motion has given me an understanding of it and bonding with it that’s stronger than ever.
And we’ve been allowed to meet outside with a friend this time, which has changed the feeling of lockdown entirely. Not only does it make those occasions feel more special than they ever would normally, but I think these interludes also allow you to further enjoy, rather than resent, the contrasting quiet times, too.
I’ve had some beautiful walks, both with Paul and friends, all of them indulgent without the normally ubiquitous pressure of time.
And whilst we have had a lot of overcast days, this only goes to accentuate the enormous skies around us on the days the grey has lifted. Skies the same size they have always been and yet with the trees now bare and the stunning low autumn light, they suddenly seem the focus of attention.
I had a first, whilst working in the woodland one day. A noise I’d never heard before. It seemed to be coming from that big open sky and as I looked up, I saw a flock of birds overhead; the noise was the sound of a thousand wings beating in unison.
I’m not entirely sure why I’ve never heard this before. I’ve seen flocks of birds go past a million times. But I’ve only ever heard their calls, not the soft, hushed sound of their wings. I suppose they must have been especially close to the ground and perhaps the leafless trees offered no buffering effect.
But new experiences like these, of seemingly such commonplace occurrence, have the ability to quite move you at the age of 45. It quite throws you that there are still firsts like this to be had; the miracle of their existence amplified, but comparable to the wonder of a toddler seeing something new and unknown. It’s the sheer surprise of an unfamiliar noise arising from something so familiar and such a beautiful and angelic one at that.
When the garden is pared back, it’s not just the skies you notice but many everyday details that are overlooked at other times of the year. How is it I’ve never before noticed how truly beautiful ivy can be?
There is so much of it around; it thrives where not much else survives and will hopefully keep the birds well fed for much of the winter.
We’ve also created an enormous apple pile in a corner of the garden. Every year the old Bramley proffers hundreds and hundreds of fruit to the ground – much faster than we can possibly pick, eat or give away.
And each year we hold good intentions to take them for charities to use, or for the local pig farmer, and every year we get overwhelmed with the task of even getting them across the garden to the drive.
So, this year we had a new, achievable plan. We’d lift them before they rotted and wheelbarrow them to a disused corner of the garden, to be left for the animals. There is one such perfect corner: a small section of land protruding beyond our flowing boundary due to a bend in the stream, with discreet access through the boundary trees; hidden from view, yet still within our property.
We’d pile all the apples up there, out of our way so we can clear the leaves from the orchard grass, but hopefully to a place on the edge of the fields where others could find and enjoy them.
The apples didn’t seem to go down at all, but we thought we’d put our wildlife camera up, just to check and see. Generally, when we use the camera, we’ll get twenty photos or so: two pictures taken close together, of ten animals passing by over the course of the night. Often dull old squirrels, but sometimes more exciting visitors pop by.
After two nights, we picked up the camera, the apple pile still as large as ever. We told ourselves we’d need to be patient; that it would probably be deeper into winter when the animals first needed and came looking for this extra source of food.
As we plugged the data card into the laptop, we watched in astonishment, as the first 50 photos downloaded, then 100, 200, 500 and finally 550 photos appeared. 275 separate visits to the apple pile.
We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Of course, the norm is to put food out by a wildlife camera, but we’d never seen the need to do this, when there is (oh, so clearly!) plenty of natural food around for them.
Yet there was a full-on zoo in our garden. They’d all found the apples tucked away in the corner and were happily munching away.
Or were they? Why on earth wasn’t the pile getting smaller with all these visitors?
It seemed the deer loved them the most; certainly, Freddy the fox didn’t hang around long after a quick sniff told him it was only boring green stuff on offer.
And setting up the camera to video the following night, we soon discovered there was an awful lot of licking going on on behalf of the deer, and not an awful lot of eating. The twinnies, especially, seemed to be there particularly regularly.
Hmmm, twinnies, are you growing up just a bit too fast and just after the cider?
It seems they may have been enjoying lockdown just as much as me!