The new Featured Writer is Kiran Millwood Hargrave whose latest collection Last March, published by Pindrop Press, vividly re-imagines Captain Scott’s journey. This spring, here and now the sky is a mass of action –clouds dashing by overhead while more are gathering into ominous cumulonimbus with fallstreaks, that look like distant tornadoes but are rain showers; sunlight coming and going; gorse casting its coconut scent to the wind; skylark songs filling the air. From a hawthorn tree a blackbird flutes; from a bare twig a stonechat calls like two pebbles kissing; bumble bees drone as they pass. As if weaving their way through the sun and showers, there falls a familiar twittering I’ve not heard since last summer which makes me look up as a pair of swallows flash by in the sunshine, long tail feathers trailing and tiny red dabs on their throats. They have made it back, having flown through the pages of an atlas – every tiny bone and feather in their fragile bodies wired to journey between their two homes. Not many of them here as yet.
Nearby is a ruined farmhouse. It is located in a time-warp I can’t quite put into words. There are rumours or scraps of legend about the place: a farmer committed suicide after his gambling debts drove him to despair during the Agricultural Depression in the 1800s and that he left a wife called Nancy with young children trying to scrape a living there; one day they upped-sticks and left; a man lived in the ruins in terrible squalor; two very old ladies used to be dropped off by a taxi once a year in the 1950s and spend a day there – I have found their old folding chair filling a gap in a hedge. In the spring there are millions of long-stemmed, late-flowering snowdrops and later there are small clumps of unusual and delicate yellow and white narcissi. There is a lime tree, a cultivated pine tree and horse chestnut trees. Not being Dartmoory trees this suggests to me they were planted when there was money about. Unusually, lilac grows in the hedge. I think I have heard children’s laughter, imagined them swinging from rope swings. Nowadays, the shell of the house is populated by trees which grow through the foundations and year by year grow taller and taller in their enormous granite-walled container.
A roe stag spends spring and summer evenings lying in the neglected orchard and recently he was there for the first time in months despite the cold wind. His nose is very black and his ears are tipped with white. He has a distinct look of Bambi but I’ve seen him there for some years so he is no youngster. His fur is still winter-dark but he will become chestnut as his coat changes. He doesn’t seem to mind my wandering about so long as he can pretend he hasn’t noticed me. I have sat there myself some evenings and watched a young fox walk right past me, seen a baby badger nosing through grass. If you sit still, wild creatures will come.
Last night I thought it better not to disturb the stag, so took my binoculars to search for him from the hill above. I couldn’t see him resting in the lengthening grass and swung my binoculars to scan the orchard and the adjoining fields. I had just concluded I wouldn’t see him if he were settled in behind a hedge until, in the exact spot where I was peering through the lenses, he jumped the bank straight into my view – to graze the grass growing lushly in the rain. His neck was turning a glowing chestnut.