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June has been a month of short walks on hot days in loose clothes, more ground may have been sat upon than walked. I have committed to short excursions punctuated by gate hopping, fence jumping, ditch spanning, or simply walking through open gates. I have travelled into the next field by any means available, to sit undisturbed and play guitar to the green. This activity led me to some beautiful spots, some new views, and some close encounters of the avian kind, while simultaneously leading me to creative inspiration.

Ash gateway into the next field

I often visit the glade of Ash trees in the top corner of Fairfield. At this time of the year these fields are inhabited by lambs and their mothers. The gate, pillared by two mature ash trees, had been left open to allow the flock to move freely between the fields. I passed through the gate, much to the disgruntlement of the flock. The next field is a narrow downward sloping corridor with high hedges of hawthorn on each side. It’s an enclosed paradise, where robins shout at each other from opposite hedgerows and where the song thrush seem to have a far larger vocabulary than those closer to home.

I feel there is gold buried somewhere in this field, the presence of Jays, for some reason, signals to me a precious space and precious moments have been had watching them leap from branch to branch, making a racket. I observed one bothering a wren, I am not sure if the jay was raiding the wren’s nest, but the wren was particularly unhappy with the jay’s presence in its portion of the hedge.

8th June – Oak, possibly planted by Jay

Jays have featured wholeheartedly in this month’s walks and sits. I have been startled by their sudden appearance on numerous occasion, most auspiciously while stood before the Wiggly Oak as a bolt of blue came and sat bold as brass, on one of the outer branches. I fantasised that this oak is under the protection of this particular jay, jumping from limb to limb, inspecting the progress of acorn development and plotting its caches.

A recent newspaper article highlighted jays as one of our most responsible oak forest planters, carrying acorns much farther afield than other birds and grey squirrels. I found one oak sapling right in the middle of a field, far too far from the nearest tree for a squirrel to venture and likely either dropped or stashed by a jay.

Further down the field, on the right, is another gateway leading into one of the many (at the time) buttercup fields, the next, next field! Further still, on the same side, lurks a huge ash tree, two leader trunks bending upward and outward creating a perfect split ash specimen. Protected from grazing animals by an extension of the fence intruding on the field, it appears the landowner wants to protect this ash tree, which is nice to see. It seems to be one of the less affected ash trees around, with a nice full canopy, dropping down to the grazing line.

I sat and enjoyed the sunlight falling through this ash for an hour or so, contemplating the affliction that’s infiltrating our ash population. I am sad to see our ash trees a lot more affected by dieback this year than last. It’s as if they are flying at half mast, perhaps in mourning of their felled fellows in surrounding areas. Many of the ash trees are showing reduced foliage and some were unable to open their black diamond shaped buds at all this year, their end branches and upper canopy dying back.

I like to remain optimistic, I know that last year the ash trees formed many very large bunches of ash keys, and continue to this year. I hypothesise that they go into a fit of seed making when they know they are diseased. A last ditch response to their affliction that should result in more saplings over the next few years, though it may take hundreds for them to develop any sort of resistance.

I resolve in the thought that ash is persistent and resilient, there will be some that aren’t affected and those we can study in the hope of finding a solution that doesn’t involve cutting them all down.

Many of those that have been cut will continue to produce epicormic growth from their stumps, it will be this new growth produced again and again, as well as the millions of seeds already hidden in the ground that will overcome this. Be sure in knowing that, as it lived before us, the ash will continue to live when we’re gone.

3rd June – Sunrise Over Wearyall Hill

This month’s trips into the next field have opened up new spaces, sites and sounds. I hoped that by enacting a physical step over fences, travelling through, and stepping into new territory that this would provide a parallel track, that would allow my mind to leap over its hurdles to contentment and find some creative inspiration, which has been lacking for a few weeks. To that end it has been a success.

I also pondered the possibility of this personal act contributing to the collective human condition at this time. It feels as if we (collectively) have been penned in somewhat and there is a need for escape or release. By stepping over boundaries, pushing new creative frontiers, we might be helped in the process of shaking off and letting go of what has been imposed upon us in the last year or so. This might be a deep day dream, but I would add that if we were all to take personal responsibility for stepping into the next field, then into the next field we would surely travel!

Post Solstice, I have found myself with a freshened outlook, a stronger commitment and resolve, and with more energy to express myself. Trips out with my guitar have been fruitful and plenty of new ideas are on their way including a new song, “Hello Mr Jay”, a comical ditty that has repeatedly lifted my spirits over the last month. I’ll share that song on a live tree walk very soon.

For now, I’ll leave you with a new instrumental piece (work in progress), recorded on location in a field in Glastonbury, with a chorus of wrens.

A Visual Diary – June 2021


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Matt Witt

Author Matt Witt

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