Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel

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Authors: John Lewis-Stempel
the omen of evil. When he was eighty William Parry of Longtown told the Victorian folklorist Ella Leather about a shepherd who was attacked on the mountain by two brothers. The shepherd told the brothers, ‘If you kill me, the very crows will cry out, and speak of it!’ The brothers ignored the warning. Thereafter, they could not go out without being mobbed by crows. Their nerves stressed and stretched, they unmasked themselves by blurting out their sin. And were hanged.
    The meadow buttercup flowers from May to August, and the first gold heads are shining loud, so that the low, crouching vixen appears to be wearing an elaborate Cleopatran crown. A small number of rabbits have hopped through from the Grove and are nibbling at the grass by the anthills. She has already had one go at the rabbits, rushing them, but the alarm was signalled by one thumping on the ground and they bolted to the burrows on the bank.
    All she has done since is lie like a sphinx in the flowery mead, and wait for the rabbits to come back. When one wanders too close, she explodes to snatch it by the neck. She is a pretty killer.
    The grass shimmies, then bows its head in racing waves before the wind. Someone has sprinkled caster sugar on the hedge. The 20th of May and the hawthorn has turned the world an eye-catching white. This is the white time. White for hawthorn blossom heaped on the hedges, white for the stitchwort growing under the hedge.
    A fox has left a territorial scat on the stone floor of the Bank gateway. I can see earth in it. Last night and the night before it rained, and was warm, and hundreds of worms were crawling over the grass. I counted ten per metre. One of the foxes has made a meal of them, but the dirt in its stomach is indigestible, hence its appearance in the fox’s excrement.

    24 M AY No, the field is not always beautiful: the dandelion flowers have been turned, by the passage of time, into seedy, pale clocks. The white time: the field has all the allure of dandruff on a school blazer.
    Note scrawled on paper, 25 May: ‘While fixing some wire across gat in Marsh hedge I disturb a hedgehog suckling three young.’ A gat is dialect for a gap, and stringing a piece of barbed wire across it is only marginally more industrious than getting the dog to sit in the hole and keep the cows from pushing through.
    But the heat was beating, the clay gone to iron, so that fixing in fence posts did not appeal.
    Herefordshire clay: it is either wet and sludgy, or hot and hard. There are about two days a year when you can work it sensibly. The heatwave has brought out the butterflies, and over the surface of the meadow there is now a constant interference of cabbage whites and meadow browns. I also see a blue butterfly I cannot identify, until I look it up in
The Observer Book of Butterflies
, given to me by my parents when I was nine. A female common blue.
    On the cow parsley that sprawls into the meadow from the thicket, there are also orange-tip butterflies. White saucer blossoms of
Anthriscus sylvestris
, their wings closed vertically above their backs, the orange-tips are fantastically difficult to discern even though I am only inches away. The green-and-white mottling of their underwings is the acme of eye-fooling camouflage.
    The sight of the adult orange-tips nectaring prompts me to check the cuckoo flowers by the ditch to see if their caterpillars are there. After some searching, I find five green orange-tip larvae. Cuckoo flower, along with garlic mustard, is the primary food source for orange-tip young, along with each other. The caterpillars are devout cannibals.


3 J UNE All the trees are now fully dressed, including the ash.
    Hovering above the luxuriant grass is the glow of gipsy-gold from the buttercups; my wellingtons are yellow from the flowers’ pollen. The baby-blue air is breathless, only moved by the beat of the swallows’ wings as they hawk midges over the field. But there is noise: the constant drone of

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