It’s been an eerie week out in the countryside. The weather clamped down over the weekend and the first signs of Spring were quickly covered with a blanket of icy wet snow, chilled hard by a biting wind straight from Siberia.The little rosettes of colour that had been crocus and daffodil buds were quickly lost to sight, and as the food disappeared so too did the bird song of just a week ago. No more six o’clock call from the blackbird singing lustily for a wife – any wife….. just the steady drip of melting slush and in the exposed places the howling, biting wind.
Every field entrance here seems to bear a stern warning to stay away, yet the nearest outbreak of foot-and-mouth is 80 miles away on the Derbyshire Peaks. The hostility in those old 1960s-style Ministry placards is palpable and the obedient nation obeys unquestioningly. They stay away from the footpaths used by the hikers, the humbler local tracks used by the dogwalkers and the old railway bed by the river. The shops are deserted and the pubs are silent – their early season pick up in trade aborted as the Viking Way grows slowly over with Spring grass under the snow.
No one takes their bread scraps to the river bank to feed the hungry nesting ducks any more, so a mallard hen and her two beaux scouted out the garden adjacent the house and laid her egg in my Zen patch. We took it away and destroyed the nest she had attempted to create in the ferns. The egg was stone cold and so would she be shortly if she remained within feet of my three patrolling felines. Disturbed, she flew away with her lovers in tow. Where are the swans who fly down from Lincoln at this time of year to nest in the reeds? They too are silent.
What stock there used to be in the fields has been barned up as an extra precaution. The cry of the lambs at this time of year is as synonymous with Spring as the lambstail catkins on the hazel that fringes the lime woods. But the fields are silent and only a foolish cock pheasant plays chicken with the traffic on the road through the woodland. Deep inside the ancient forest the deer and their new fawns remain hidden and unaware of what is happening all around them. I’d like to think that no shooters could cull them all if the worst happened.
It is our own farming methods that have brought us to this – the drive for maximum profit led by the agri-business men. But it is the small hill farmers who are suffering, their sheep shot in front of them and the pyres burning all around. The silence of the Spring seems to inevitably be followed by the longer silence of Summer and all the seasons beyond.