Darkness Visible

One thing about this time of year that I am really aware of is the light – or rather the lack of it. On Thursday it was dark, to all intents and purposes, at about 3 o’clock, as I got ready to collect the children from school. Even on a fine sunny day like yesterday, the sun sets just a little after 4 o’clock, and there is another half an hour or so of gloaming in which to finish off and tidy up. 

My job yesterday afternoon was to finish off some replanting of perennials, and I was just finishing when Mrs M emerged from the darkness. Looking up from the border I realised that it was properly dark, though down at soil level it hadn’t seemed quite so bad. One’s eyes do become accustomed, and – even with my lousy eyesight – it is surprising how much one can see with very little light.

Earlier in the autumn my son and I joined a bat walk at Blashford Lakes – a nature reserve near Ringwood, managed by the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. We were forbidden to use torches, and followed our guide carefully around the woodland paths in complete darkness. After about twenty minutes, one could see perfectly well enough to make out the path and see sufficient to navigate through the woods. (with care not to fall into the ditches). It makes me think that our pre-electric ancestors were maybe more able to function without artificial light than we sometimes imagine. Certainly, with any amount of moonlight, one need not have retired to bed as soon as the sun set.

The perennials had been dug up last week in readiness for a deposit of topsoil across the border. Well established clumps of Hemerocallis, Pulmonaria and Geranium, along with some roses and peonies, needed to be lifted and put to one side. I then returned earlier this week to get them back in – taking the opportunity to rearrange the planting a bit, as it had got very congested.

I also spent some time going around the pots and planters which contain permanent planting – as well as those which had been used for bedding plants. Each one was carefully tidied, dead plants and weeds removed, and  the top inch or so of compost taken out. I then topped up with fresh compost – and will get any empty pots filled with bulbs on my next visit.

All afternoon I was accompanied by the hoarse, guttural croaking of two Ravens. When I was first birding, back in the early 1970s, Ravens were only ever to be seen on (fortunately frequent) visits to the Lake District: birds of the crags and bleak tops. Forty years on they have spread from their former range in many places, and are now regularly spotted in rural Wiltshire. This was the closest I have ever seen them to Salisbury itself – but the wooded valleys of the Avon and other rivers suit them well. Like Buzzards and Red Kites, Ravens are restoring the skies of our countryside, and increasingly our small rural towns, to the sounds and calls of Elizabethan times.

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