|Rooks and Jackdaws at dusk|
|The track - stair-rod straight|
It is a footpath, bridleway, rough track, road, a link between settlements, cemeteries and people. It is a wildlife corridor, field headland, a ribbon, a river of life flowing through and beyond barren, harvested fields. This path is not a gash cutting through the landscape, not a wound inflicted by modern farming; it is an artery which carries things through the landscape: feet, hooves, cartwheels, tractor wheels, paws, bicycle wheels, and, during heavy rain, even the eroded chalk powder of the earth itself.
Sussex has a rich dialect when it comes to mud. Sussex roads gained a notoriety for their heavy-going state when Daniel Defoe lamented about them in his Grand Tour, during his struggle through the Wealden clay. My chalky track, high above and to the south of the heavy clay, has been a dry bed for months but, tonight, as I walk along its course, the intermittent rain has softened the harvest dust. Today has felt more in common with October than August and the sticky paste reminds me to be thankful for the dryness of the season and clean dogs at the end of each walk. These dog-days are numbered, but one day of sun and wind tomorrow will bake hard the chalk-rich earth again.
In recent weeks we have been entertained by an abundance of butterflies: meadow browns, gatekeepers, marbled whites and common blues, with the odd wall brown. Tonight though the track has given its greatest gift of the year in a hawking barn owl; not a ghostly white figure but an unmistakable silent silhouette which drifts across the straw stubble away from the pell-mell of my dogs. The same airspace during our morning walk was taken by a hovering kestrel. Further along the track we pause and listen to a tawny owl somewhere below us in The Rookery. A second one answers somewhere lower down in the wood. We haven't seen or heard them here before and we happily add them to our mental list alongside barn, short-eared and little owls which we remember from the thirty or so years past that we have walked here.
|Walking home, as the crow flies|