As I started my walk this morning, I was out of sorts. Frustrated by a phone conversation I’d had, feeling my aching back and lack of sleep, trying not to scratch the itchy rash on my neck. It was supposed to be sunny but it wasn’t, it was humid and grey. Flies were circling me, irritatingly close.
I set off down a track from a nearby village, my ears tuning into the birdsong. A yellowhammer in the hedge, finches and blue tits. I pause to watch some sheep. The lambs have grown now, all adult and grazing; the playfulness of their youth passed in a flash this spring.
The hills and fields stretch out ahead and I begin to breathe deeper. I love the old farmhouse I pass in the valley: a walled garden with delphiniums peering over, sweeps of meadow either side of the drive. A pink rose clambering over the brick-and-flint of the pretty converted stables.
I turn right and walk up a wooded track. A couple of squirrels bound away from me, then I spot another creature, not moving. Through my binoculars I see it’s a young rabbit – I never go walking without my binoculars: so many precious sights would be missed. It’s curious about me. It hesitates, watching me get closer. I tune in with it, sending it warmth. It has yet to learn about humans, that they can’t always be trusted. I wish the ends of binoculars didn’t look the same as the barrel of a shotgun. How can creatures distinguish danger? Through intention. I do my best to keep my intention and energy field clear.
The bunny hops into the undergrowth. At that point, my attention turns to a soft single cheeping up in an ash tree. The bird flies off, then another, still chirping. I see where they land: it’s a pair of bullfinches, with their dusky pink breasts and black and grey plumage. So shy, so rare to see! My heart lifts.
Further up the track, there’s more rustling of squirrels scattering amongst the tree canopies – the telltale sway of branches on a still day like this. And then I catch a quiet wheezy rasp, also amid the thick green foliage. I know that sound: it’s the same call as the tawny owlet my partner and I nurtured in April. Another teenage tawny owl! I stay stock still, eyes scanning, ears alert. The rasp keeps moving around – astonishingly fast, yet I see no bird, perched or in flight. Our own owlet had proved just as hard to keep tabs on once it could fly. How can it move so quickly? Are there two of them? And then yes, the sound is doubled as they rasp at the same time in different places. Siblings calling to each other! (We were told by the Hawk Conservancy that tawny owls are very territorial and have large territories, so these two will be from the same brood.) I barely move for ages, hoping to get a glimpse. They remain elusive. I sense that one is observing me, but I can’t spot it among the dense foliage.
It’s only when I reluctantly finally move off and look back at the ash tree that I see it take wing and fly silently off to another branch. I’m so happy that I did get to glimpse it! I send the owlet my gratitude. I sense it was a boy and the other one, further away, was his sister.
I come out along the top of a hill on this circular walk and pass another field of sheep, with a few hens scattered companionably among them. And then there’s a loud bleat a stone’s throw from me: it’s a lamb – whiter than the others and the only one with horns. It’s on its knees and has put its head through one of the squares of the wire fence to eat the longer grass on my side. I suspect it’s stuck because those curved horns won’t easily go back through. I approach it very slowly and gently talk to it, reassuring it that I’m there to help. As I touch its woolly coat – so soft! – and start to coax it into position, it bucks its head around and wriggles. This could be tricky, but I’m not going to leave it like this. It takes a little while, as I keep gently but firmly manoeuvring its head into a better position while it butts and lunges, then it seems to get it: it turns its head sideways, and in that moment I can guide its horns back through the narrow gap, and it is free again. The first thing it does is pee in relief. And then it’s off. The other sheep have been riveted from afar. I sense their gratitude as I continue on my walk. How long had it been stuck there bleating?
The flies are more persistent up on the hill, but I’m no longer irritated by them. They’re just curious. I could put the hood of my summer jacket up to keep them off but I like to hear the surround-sound of birdsong and breeze. I muse on hoodies: as much or more about self-protection as to be threatening. Not “hoodlums” but boys who don’t feel safe to be seen, defensive because they don’t know whom or how to trust, or where the next attack will come from.
I observe a pair of warblers on a telegraph wire, then dunnocks dipping into a hedge. There’s a mistiness to the air, low cloud on the horizon, a still, humid warmth hangs. Beans are growing well, green and tall; poppies popping up between, luminous red even in the grey light. A barley field is just beginning to blush yellow. The combine harvesters will be out in a month. At the edge of the barley field, I spot a young roe stag, just two years old from his delicate twin-tined antlers, grazing on the long summer grasses. He hasn’t spotted or smelled me. I walk quietly along the track towards him. He still doesn’t notice me as I get close. I start to tune in more strongly with him: You’re going to need to be more aware, I beam to him. I’m friend not foe; others – gamekeepers – may shoot, though. He only realises I’m there when I’m a few yards away from him. Off he bounds, his beautiful chestnut coat merging into the deeper grass.
As I walk back up the first track to the car, I observe how my mood has completely changed. The itching has dropped away, my back feels more flexible, my energy restored. I feel softer, more accepting again. Each of my encounters has brought me back to now.
Trust. What it is to trust, especially in these times of many perceived threats. When are we safe? What is safety? The young rabbit, lamb, owlets and deer I met are just living in and assessing each moment, not obsessed with their mortality. We’re never truly “safe”, nor are our loved ones, because we all have to face loss, pain and uncertainty, and we all die. It seems to me on this walk that safety is trust in one’s instincts in the present moment. Sometimes that’s as good as it gets, and that is enough. And enough is abundance.