Trees

June 1st, day one of the WildLife Trusts 30 Days Wild Challenge to engage with the wild world each day. At six-thirty in the morning, determined to start the challenge well, I step outside the front door in my pyjamas and dressing gown. It is damp from overnight rain and cold for a June morning. Northerly winds have been blowing for the past week and a predicted for all this week as well. Is this normal British weather or yet another sign of climate change? It is difficult to tell, but the question hangs in the back of my mind.

I walk up the little lane that leads to the orchard – always my first choice in the more than human world. Of course, it is not wildly wild, it is a 200-year-old walled garden we have planted with fruit trees and a wildflower meadow and carefully tend through the year. But it’s a good start.

As I walk I notice the hedgerow plants – wild garlic, wild strawberries, nettles and ferns; the forget-me-nots are fading, and the violets that were flowering profusely a while ago are over now, as are the dandelions. The May trees that earlier in the week were glistening white are now tinged with pink, the flowers fading and the berries just setting.

I unlock with orchard door and walk under the stone arch. The meadow grass stretches in front of me, growing quickly now, tender tips reaching upward, decorated with rain drops, waving ever so gently in the faint breeze that reaches over the high walls. I walk around the mowed paths, trying to remember the names of at least some of the 30 or so species in the meadow: buttercups, yellow rattle, tom thumb; the seedpods of cowslips; many, many buds of ox eye daisies, a handful already opened to show their yellow centre; red campion growing in a bundle at the foot of the wall.

The sound of the brisk northeasterly breeze blowing through the nearby ash trees catches my attention. It’s not howling through the trees, but there’s more than a rustle of leaves. The slender branches that reach out from the ivy-covered trunks sway vigorously, like an ecstatic jazz saxophonist. There is a rushing, a pattering noise. Is it like water running over stones, of gravel underfoot? No, there is really nothing like it: the sound I hear comes from the tiny percussive movement of a billion trillion leaves, a billion trillion little diversions of air clattering together. The sound of wind in the trees.

There is a lull. The trees move more gently. Their sound dies away. A chaffinch sings, a blue tit cheeps, sharp, penetrating notes. The wind builds up again, first the more distant trees to my right are swaying, while those closer remain still. As the squall blows through it creates a wave of moving branches and an accompanying wave of sound, building, then fading away again. And in the quiet, the shrill of the birds.

I have been standing, utterly absorbed, oblivious to the damp cold seeping through my dressing gown. I love listening like this to the layering of a soundscape, my ears separating out the individual sounds and drawing them back together. Sometimes I fancy I can hear a profound, eternal silence lying behind the immediate sounds of the world. But it is too cold for that today, and it’s time for breakfast.