I go to shut the birds in. Two pens of hens have taken themselves to roost and can be shut in with ease. I drop the shutters on them both. The new hens in the third pen have 'issues' about bedtime. They roost on the roof while the cockerel beds down inside the hut. He croons away - no doubt he thinks he's an enticingly reassuring presence and A Sexy Thang. The 4 hens outside, however, are not beguiled. Nobody is up for a bit of nooky with the randy old sod - and a quick 'knee-trembler' seems to be the key to entry. A shag and you're in - take it or leave it.
So here I am - interfering in their best interests. It's a double edged sword: show solidarity with the sisters or leave them perched on the roof and to provide supper for Brer Fox. I do the sums: they cost me £15 per bird but I could go to Tesco and buy chicken at £3.00 apiece to throw for foxes. It makes sense to shoo them in. This is a gradual process - a nudge off the roof and a bit of guidance with a stick generally does the trick. Then a wait while they decide to go in....or...not. Patience is the key
There's time to stand and stare though - hence my observations of the evening sky. I pull my jacket up around my shoulders against the cool air and lean against the pen to watch as the colour fades around me. To watch what? A couple of lights twinkle in the distance; there is little to disturb the tranquility of this place. Badnage Wood is black - and sighs as a gently breeze shifts the conifers. The ridge and furrow in the Church Field is thrown into sharp relief. It's hardly discernible when one is actually in the field but from afar I see peaks and wide troughs - contours made by centuries of the plough following the same path, the moulboard cutting and turning the soil, throwing it up from the furrow onto the ridge.
Moulboard Plough, Geoffrey Luttrell Psalter (1325)
Who did plough it I wonder? Which ploughman trudged behind oxen up and down the bank? Just who did live here? And when? And why? What were their lives like?
As clocks cannot be turned back there is no way of really knowing, but in the gloaming I try to imagine life on the end of the Long Mountain centuries ago. Tough and hard come to mind, for both man and beast; and each thing done according to the seasons. This much does not change - I still see my farming neighbours following those familiar patterns:
'To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.'
But that pheasant shrieking in the dingle - that would have been an unfamiliar cry and the sound of a light aircraft some miles away - what strange and terrifying bird is that? Then there is silence broken only by the whispering wind and the low of a cow crooning to her calf in the field by the lane. I smell of woodsmoke and feel cold dew on my feet. Like this then perhaps?
The hens are in at last and the door shut. I can hear them jostling and clucking inside - universal hen noises for all-time. I turn my back on the night and ramble back to the blare of the 21st century. Yes, the Glam Ass is watching some cop show or other......