We recently had a holiday in the small village of Farnborough just north of Banbury. It was mainly a time to be outdoors, going for walks and spend time with the family. I didn't find it easy to create space for anything really deep and meaningful. I had a few walks by myself, but these were mainly a time to just enjoy the exercise, to try and do some drawing and just to "be" away from the office. There was one moment on one of my walks when I really felt something tug at my deeper spiritual psyche and this is described here.
On a warm, sunny, still morning I find myself walking over a field of pasture with grazing cattle scattered around me. As I walk down off the top and over the crest of a small rise I come across a group of around fifty or so large hawthorn trees that seem to draw me into them. I wonder why these trees are still standing here? There is a patch of gorse not far away, but otherwise this is a large field of probably quite ancient pasture bounded by old and mature hedges. There is a farm just on one side of the field and I wonder if this patch of ground has a long history of settlement and a long disappeared more functional use. Did this patch of trees once cover the whole hill? Was there an old barn or house that once stood here? These trees feel like a site of antiquity and memory, but I seen not direct evidence of any building having been here.
Here is a place that draws me into its presence - to sit down at the base of a tree, to get out my sketchpad, to observe and to write.
The hawthorns stand amidst the new green spring grass, their heavy and fragrant blossom bright in the sunshine. Each tree has its own character and presence within the group. Their trunks are old and twisted - some single others an intertwining of multiple stems that form many variations in shape and form. It is like each tree has a different pattern to follow in its design. For some, the trunks rise straight up, others have gentle clockwise turns - some even seem to have knots with branches criss-crossing over and under each other. Some look like a thick rope of woven cords.
Hawthorns are often a symbol of dark and impenetrable hedges and thickets but here I can walk freely on the grassy openness between the trees. Here, cows will seek shelter from the sun or the rain and there may be rabbit holes here and there. The earth may be always damp and cool here. In winter, hawthorns can create an unwelcoming place with cold dark shapes, defensive thorns and bare soil beneath black rotting leaves.
Apart from a gentle breeze in the leaves and blossom this place makes little sound. In the distant hedges birds sing and the gentle murmur of the M40 a couple of miles away always intrudes on this landscape.
There is a solitary oak tree in from of my sitting place. Like the hawthorns it is misshapen and seems out of place here. Its main trunk lies at around 45 degrees and then divides into double trunks, one of which bend down to the ground. The churned up mud at its base shows that it is used as a scratching post by the cattle and, indeed, there are patches where the bark has been totally removed.
I touch the trunk of one tree, examining it more closely. Devoid of the sharp thorns that cover the branches and twigs the bark is soft and warm and strongly textured - home to spiders and other invertebrates.
A small group of buttercups add a touch of yellow to the ground which is strewn with cowpats, fallen blossom and hoof holes in the soft earth. Perhaps a small spring arises here, just enough to dampen the soil.
A few chaffinches dart amongst the branches around me, singing unseen.
I give thanks to the place and leave. I don't know why this place attracted me. Some places just seem to be a source of inspiration. For me, it isn't usually a beautiful view that inspires me or something else of wonder in the natural world. It is sensing something in what could be very ordinary and missed by many people. Perhaps it was just the shape and form of the trees that I perceived as something unusual; perhaps it was a sense of discovery; or perhaps a deep tuning in to a moment when the boundaries between spiritual worlds became thin.
* * * * *
Later on my walk I pass within about six feet of two young fox cubs staring a me from an earthen hole in a bank under a hedgerow.
As I stand in a wheat field, a hare appears and walks towards me, stopping every so often to eat a leaf of the growing wheat. Motionless I watch it. It almost seems oblivious to me and quietly passes by about ten feet away. Another close encounter with a hare.