WILD THYME OF THE HILLS

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by Simon Coleman

The wonder of the flowers of the fields, hedges and hills was never absent from Jefferies’ world of thought and feeling.  He writes in ‘Locality and Nature’: “To anyone who takes a delight in wild flowers some spot or other of the earth is always becoming consecrated.”  As a boy he would gather flowers from the meadows when the grass was being cut.

 

“I used to stand by the mower and follow the scythe sweeping down thousands of the broad-flowered daisies, the knotted knapweeds, the blue scabious, the yellow rattles, sweeping so close and true that nothing escaped; and, yet although I had seen so many hundreds of each, although I had lifted armfuls day after day, still they were fresh. They never lost their newness, and even now each time I gather a wild flower it feels a new thing.”

 

On the chalk hills of Wiltshire and Sussex, Jefferies found an abundance of thyme, the purplish-pink flower, loved by the bees, to which he refers so often.  On Wolstanbury Hill in Sussex,

“…you may lie on the grassy rampart, high up in the most delicate air – Grecian air, pellucid – alone, among the butterflies and humming bees at the thyme…”

 

He would often rest at places where the thyme grew thickly, inhaling its ‘delicious odour’.   On Beachy Head he found “turf thus washed by wind and rain, sun-dried and dew-scented, is a couch prepared with thyme to rest on.” This connection between thyme and repose is a recurring theme in his writing.  In his rural novel, Green Fern Farm, for example, Geoffrey’s “weary head drooped on the pillow of thyme; with a deep-drawn sigh he slept.”

The hills themselves he could describe as ‘thyme-scented’. They were a wilder, more open and less populated district than the farmlands around Coate where he grew up.  Breezes were forever washing over them, as pure as the scent of the thyme.  The hills were in some sense an ‘other’, more primitive world, bare of trees, littered with prehistoric entrenchments and barrows which awoke the imagination to the passage of great cycles of time.  They were ever fresh and charged with life-giving powers.  The colours of flowers and grasses stood out with superb clarity on the chalky slopes.  Jefferies found another type of beauty on the hills, and the thyme was interwoven into his feelings and experiences there.  It might even have expressed for him something of the ‘unseen presence’ that dwelt among these gently curving uplands.

His unquenchable desire for such beauty could take the form of a silent ‘prayer’.  We are not talking about a god here: he denied the existence of deity, believing it to be a tiny idea.  This prayer was his life-desire, his passion for the fullest existence, here on earth.  He describes it in The Story of My Heart, in impassioned prose-poetry:

“…I prayed by the sweet thyme, whose little flowers I touched with my hand; by the slender grass; by the crumble of dry chalky earth I took up and let fall through my fingers. Touching the crumble of earth, the blade of grass, the thyme flower, breathing the earth-encircling air, thinking of the sea and the sky, holding out my hand for the sunbeams to touch it, prone on the sward in token of deep reverence, thus I prayed that I might touch to the unutterable existence infinitely higher than deity.”

 

The focus of this experience was Liddington Hill at the northern edge of the Wiltshire downs.   He refers to his ‘hill-prayer’ in his notebooks and it is clear that the chalk downs, the land of the wild thyme, was where this rapture came upon him with the greatest intensity.  In Jefferies’ children’s novel, Wood Magic, “Bevis gathered the harebell, and ran with the flower in his hand down the hill, and as he ran the wild thyme kissed his feet and said: ‘Come again, Bevis, come again’ “. The thyme, while remaining a simple flower, became a symbol which helped him to shape his desire, his hill-prayer, into something almost tangible.  Only through touch could he gather its deepest beauty and significance.

Some years after his wanderings on the downs around Liddington, Jefferies, now living in suburban Surrey, visited the famous botanical gardens at Kew.  At length he came upon some thyme:

“This bunch of wild thyme once again calls up a vision of the Downs; it is not so thick and strong, and it lacks that cushion of herbage which so often marks the site of its growth on the noble slopes of the hills, and along the sward-grown fosse of ancient earthworks, but it is wild thyme, and that is enough.”

Summer in Somerset

Reflections from Jefferies about time spent on Exmoor and the Quantock Hills in the early 1880s, which were published as ‘Summer in Somerset’

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“The brown Barle River running over red rocks aslant its course is pushed aside, and races round curving slopes. The first shoot of the rapid is smooth and polished like a gem by the lapidary’s art, rounded and smooth as a fragment of torso, and this convex undulation maintains a solid outline. Then the following scoop under is furrowed as if ploughed across, and the ridge of each furrow, where the particles move a little less swiftly than in the hollow of the groove, falls backwards as foam blown from a wave. At the foot of the furrowed decline the current rises over a rock in a broad white sheet–white because as it is dashed to pieces the air mingles with it. After this furious haste the stream does but just overtake those bubbles which have been carried along on another division of the water flowing steadily but straight. Sometimes there are two streams like this between the same banks, sometimes three or even more, each running at a different rate, and each gliding above a floor differently inclined. The surface of each of these streams slopes in a separate direction, and though under the same light they reflect it at varying angles. The river is animated and alive, rushing here, gliding there, foaming yonder; its separate and yet component parallels striving together, and talking loudly in incomplete sentences. Those rivers that move through midland meads present a broad, calm surface, at the same level from side to side; they flow without sound, and if you stood behind a thick hedge you would not know that a river was near. They dream along the meads, toying with their forget-me-nots, too idle even to make love to their flowers vigorously. The brown Barle enjoys his life, and splashes in the sunshine like boys bathing–like them he is sunburnt and brown. He throws the wanton spray over the ferns that bow and bend as the cool breeze his current brings sways them in the shade. He laughs and talks, and sings louder than the wind in his woods.

Here is a pool by the bank under an ash–a deep green pool inclosed by massive rocks, which the stream has to brim over. The water is green–or is it the ferns, and the moss, and the oaks, and the pale ash reflected? This rock has a purple tint, dotted with moss spots almost black; the green water laps at the purple stone, and there is one place where a thin line of scarlet is visible, though I do not know what causes it. Another stone the spray does not touch has been dried to a bright white by the sun. Inclosed, the green water slowly swirls round till it finds crevices, and slips through. A few paces farther up there is a red rapid–reddened stones, and reddened growths beneath the water, a light that lets the red hues overcome the others–a wild rush of crowded waters rotating as they go, shrill voices calling. This next bend upwards dazzles the eyes, for every inclined surface and striving parallel, every swirl, and bubble, and eddy, and rush around a rock chances to reflect the sunlight. Not one long pathway of quiet sheen, such as stretches across a rippled lake, each wavelet throwing back its ray in just proportion, but a hundred separate mirrors vibrating, each inclined at a different angle, each casting a tremulous flash into the face. The eyelids involuntarily droop to shield the gaze from a hundred arrows; they are too strong–nothing can be distinguished but a woven surface of brilliance, a mesh of light, under which the water runs, itself invisible. I will go back to the deep green pool, and walking now with the sun behind, how the river has changed!

Soft, cool shadows reach over it, which I did not see before; green surfaces are calm under trees; the rocks are less hard; the stream runs more gently, and the oaks come down nearer; the delicious sound of the rushing water almost quenches my thirst. My eyes have less work to do to meet the changing features of the current which now seems smooth as my glance accompanies its movement. The sky, which was not noticed before, now appears reaching in rich azure across the deep hollow, from the oaks on one side to the oaks on the other. These woods, which cover the steep and rocky walls of the gorge from river to summit, are filled with the June colour of oak. It is not green, nor russet, nor yellow; I think it may be called a glow of yellow under green. It is warmer than green; the glow is not on the outer leaves, but comes up beneath from the depth of the branches. The rush of the river soothes the mind, the broad descending surfaces of yellow-green oak carry the glance downwards from the blue over to the stream in the hollow. Rush! rush!–it is the river, like a mighty wind in the wood. A pheasant crows, and once and again falls the tap, tap of woodmen’s axes–scarce heard, for they are high above. They strip the young oaks of their bark as far as they can while the saplings stand, then fell them, and as they all lie downhill there are parallel streaks of buff (where the sap has dried) drawn between the yellow-green masses of living leaf. The pathway winds in among the trees at the base of the rocky hill; light green whortleberries fill every interstice, bearing tiny red globes of flower–flower-lamps–open at the top. Wood-sorrel lifts its delicate veined petals; the leaf is rounded like the shadow of a bubble on a stone under clear water. I like to stay by the wood-sorrel a little while–it is so chastely beautiful; like the purest verse, it speaks to the inmost heart. Staying, I hear unconsciously–listen! Rush! rush! like a mighty wind in the wood.

It draws me on to the deep green pool inclosed about by rocks–a pool to stand near and think into. The purple rock, dotted with black moss; the white rock; the thin scarlet line; the green water; the overhanging tree; the verdant moss upon the bank; the lady fern–are there still. But I see also now a little pink somewhere in the water, much brown too, and shades I know no name for. The water is not green, but holds in solution three separate sets of colours. The confervae on the stones, the growths beneath at the bottom waving a little as the water swirls like minute seaweeds–these are brown and green and somewhat reddish too. Under water the red rock is toned and paler, but has deep black cavities. Next, the surface, continually changing as it rotates, throws back a different light, and thirdly, the oaks’ yellow-green high up, the pale ash, the tender ferns drooping over low down confer their tints on the stream. So from the floor of the pool, from the surface, and from the adjacent bank, three sets of colours mingle. Washed together by the slow swirl, they produce a shade–the brown of the Barle–lost in darkness where the bank overhangs.

Following the current downwards at last the river for awhile flows in quietness, broad and smooth. A trout leaps for a fly with his tail curved in the air, full a foot out of water. Trout watch behind sunken stones, and shoot to and fro as insects droop in their flight and appear about to fall. So clear is the water and so brightly illuminated that the fish are not easily seen–for vision depends on contrast–but in a minute I find a way to discover them by their shadows. The black shadow of a trout is distinct upon the bottom of the river, and guides the eye to the spot; then looking higher in the transparent water there is the fish. It was curious to see these black shadows darting to and fro as if themselves animated and without bodies, for if the trout darted before being observed the light concealed him in motion. Some of the trout came up from under Torre-steps, a singular structure which here connects the shores of the stream. Every one has seen a row of stepping-stones across a shallow brook; now pile other stones on each of these, forming buttresses, and lay flat stones like unhewn planks from buttress to buttress, and you have the plan of this primitive bridge. It has a megalithic appearance, as if associated with the age of rude stone monuments. They say its origin is doubtful; there can be no doubt of the loveliness of the spot. The Barle comes with his natural rush and fierceness under the unhewn stone planking, then deepens, and there overhanging a black pool–for the shadow was so deep as to be black–grew a large bunch of marsh-marigolds in fullest flower, the broad golden cups almost resting on the black water. The bridge is not intended for wheels, and though it is as firm as the rock, foot passengers have to look at their steps, as the great planks, flecked with lichen at the edges, are not all level. The horned sheep and lambs go over it–where do they not go? Like goats they wander everywhere.

In a cottage some way up the hill we ate clotted cream and whortleberry jam. Through the open door came the ceaseless rush! rush! like a wind in the wood. The floor was of concrete, lime and sand; on the open hearth–pronounced ‘airth’–sods of turf cut from the moor and oak branches were smouldering under the chimney crook. Turf smoke from the piled-up fires of winter had darkened the beams of the ceiling, but from that rude room there was a view of the river, and the hill, and the oaks in full June colour, which the rich would envy. Sometimes in early morning the wild red deer are seen feeding on the slope opposite. As we drove away in reckless Somerset style, along precipices above the river, with nothing but a fringe of fern for parapet, the oak woods on the hills under us were shading down into evening coolness of tint, the yellow less warm, the green more to the surface. Upon the branches of the trees moss grows, forming a level green top to the round bough like a narrow cushion along it, with frayed edges drooping over each side. Though moss is common on branches, it does not often make a raised cushion, thick, as if green velvet pile were laid for the birds to run on. There were rooks’ nests in some tall ash trees; the scanty foliage left the nests exposed, they were still occupied by late broods. Rooks’ nests are not often seen in ashes as in elms.

By a mossy bank a little girl–a miniature Audrey–stout, rosy, and ragged, stood with a yellow straw hat aslant on her yellow hair, eating the leaves from a spray of beech in her hand. Audrey looked at us, eating the beech leaves steadily, but would not answer, not even ‘Where’s your father to?’ For in Somerset the ‘to’ is put last, and must never be omitted; thus, instead of saying ‘I bought this at Taunton,’ it is correct to say ‘I bought this to Taunton.’ There are models under glass cases in places of entertainment with a notice to say that if a penny be inserted the machine will go. Audrey the Little would not speak, but when a penny was put in her hand she began to move, and made off for home with the treasure. The road turned and turned, but whichever way the Barle was always under us, and the red rock rose high at the side. This rock fractures aslant if worked, vast flakes come out, and the cleavage is so natural that until closely approached a quarry appears a cliff. Stone got out in squares, or cut down straight, leaves an artificial wall; these rocks cannot be made to look artificial, and if painted a quarry would be certainly quite indistinguishable from a natural precipice. Entering a little town (Dulverton) the road is jammed tight between cottages: so narrow is the lane that foot passengers huddle up in doorways to avoid the touch of the wheels, and the windows of the houses are protected by iron bars like cages lest the splash-boards should crack the glass. Nowhere in closest-built London is there such a lane–one would imagine land to be dear indeed. The farm labourers, filing homewards after their day’s work, each carry poles of oak or fagots on their shoulders for their hearths, generally oak branches; it is their perquisite. The oak somehow takes root among the interstices of the stones of this rocky land. Past the houses the rush! rush! of the brown Barle rises again in the still evening air.

From the Devon border I drifted like a leaf detached from a tree, across to a deep coombe in the Quantock Hills. The vast hollow is made for repose and lotus-eating; its very shape, like a hammock, indicates idleness. There the days go over noiselessly and without effort, like white summer clouds. Ridges each side rise high and heroically steep–it would be proper to set out and climb them, but not to-day, not now: some time presently. To the left massive Will’s Neck stands out in black shadow defined and distinct, like a fragment of night in the bright light of the day. The wild red deer lie there, but the mountain is afar; a sigh is all I can give to it, for the Somerset sun is warm and the lotus sweet Yonder, if the misty heat moves on, the dim line of Dunkery winds along the sky, not unlike the curved back of a crouching hare. The weight of the mountains is too great–what is the use of attempting to move? It is enough to look at them. The day goes over like a white cloud; as the sun declines it is pleasant to go into the orchard–the vineyard of Somerset, and then perhaps westward may be seen a light in the sky by the horizon as if thrown up from an immense mirror under. The mirror is the Severn sea, itself invisible at this depth, but casting a white glow up against the vapour in the air. By it you may recognise the nearness of the sea. The thumb-nail ridges of the Quantocks begin to grow harder, they carry the eye along on soft curves like those of the South Downs in Sussex, but suddenly end in a flourish and point as if cut out with the thumb-nail. Draw your thumb-nail firmly along soft wood, and it will, by its natural slip, form such a curve. Blackbird and thrush commence to sing as the heavy heat decreases; the bloom on the apple trees is loose now, and the blackbird as he springs from the bough shakes down flakes of blossom.

Towards even a wind moves among the lengthening shadows, and my footsteps involuntarily seek the glen, where a streamlet trickles down over red flat stones which resound musically as the water strikes them. Ferns are growing so thickly in the hedge that soon it will seem composed of their fronds; the first June rose hangs above their green tips. A water-ousel with white breast rises and flies on; again disturbed, he makes a circle, and returns to the stream behind. On the moist earth there is the print of a hare’s pad; here is a foxglove out in flower; and now as the incline rises heather thickens on the slope. Sometimes we wander beside the streamlet which goes a mile into the coombe–the shadow is deep and cool in the vast groove of the hill, the shadow accumulates there, and is pressed by its own weight–up slowly as far as the ‘sog,’ or peaty place where the spring rises, and where the sundew grows. Sometimes climbing steep and rocky walls–scarce sprinkled with grass–we pause every other minute to look down on the great valley which reaches across to Dunkery. The horned sheep, which are practically wild, like wild creatures, have worn out holes for themselves to lie in beside the hill. If resolution is strong, we move through the dark heather (soon to be purple), startling the heath-poults, or black game, till at last the Channel opens, and the far-distant Flat and Steep Holms lie, as it looks, afloat on the dim sea. This is labour enough; stern indeed must be the mind that could work at summer’s noon in Somerset, when the apple vineyards slumber; when the tall foxgloves stand in the heavy heat and the soft air warms the deepest day-shadow so that nothing is cool to the touch but the ferns. Is there anything so good as to do nothing? …

Everywhere wild strawberries were flowering on the banks–wild strawberries have been found ripe in January here; everywhere ferns were thickening and extending, foxgloves opening their bells. Another deep coombe led me into the mountainous Quantocks, far below the heather, deep beside another trickling stream. In this land the sound of running water is perpetual, the red flat stones are resonant, and the speed of the stream draws forth music like quick fingers on the keys; the sound of running water and the pleading voice of the willow-wren are always heard in summer. Among the oaks growing on the steep hill-side the willow-wrens repeated their sweet prayer; the water as it ran now rose and now fell; there was a louder note as a little stone was carried over a fall. The shadow came slowly out from the oak-grown side of the coombe, it reached to the margin of the brook. Under the oaks there appears nothing but red stones, as if the trees were rooted in them; under the boughs probably the grass does not cover the rock as it does on the opposite side. There mountain-ashes flowered in loose order on the green slope. Redstarts perched on them, darting out to seize passing insects. Still deeper in the coombe the oaks stood on either side of the stream; it was the beginning of woods which reach for miles, in which occasionally the wild red deer wander, and drink at the clear waters. By now the shadow of the western hill-top had crossed the brooklet, and the still coombe became yet more silent. There was an alder, ivy-grown, beside the stream–a tree with those lines which take an artist’s fancy. Under the roots of alders the water-ousel often creeps by day, and the tall heron stalks past at night. Receding up the eastern slope of the coombe the sunlight left the dark alder’s foliage in the deep shadow of the hollow. I went up the slope till I could see the sun, and waited; in a few minutes the shadow reached me, and it was sunset; I went still higher, and presently the sun set again. A cool wind was drawing up the coombe, it was dusky in the recesses of the oaks, and the water of the stream had become dark when we emerged from the great hollow, and yet without the summer’s evening had but just commenced, and the banks were still heated by the sun.”

The Mowers at Harvest Time

Simon Coleman

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When Richard Jefferies was writing in the 1870s and 1880s, British agriculture was experiencing immense upheaval and profound change.  The effects of the depression were far reaching, while increasing mechanisation and the rise of farm ‘businesses’ challenged the old-style practices.  But many traditional methods were still very much in evidence, such as grass-cutting by teams of mowers armed with scythes.  For the typical Wiltshire dairy farmer, the working practices of these teams could be a major headache during the haymaking time.  In this passage from The Toilers of the Field, we get a good insight into the mayhem that the mowers were capable of causing.

“The nuisance of mowers must be gone through to be appreciated. They come and work very well for the first week. They slash down acre after acre, and stick to it almost day and night. In consequence the farmer puts on every man who applies for work, everything goes on first-rate, and there is a prospect of getting the crop in speedily. At the end of the week the mowers draw their money, quite a lump for them, and away they go to the ale-house. Saturday night sees them as drunk as men can be. They lie about the fields under the hedges all day Sunday, drinking when the public-house is open. Monday morning they go on to work for half-an-hour, but the fever engendered by so much liquor, and the disordered state of the stomach, cause a burning thirst. They fling the scythes down, and go off to the barrel. During all this week perhaps between them they manage to cut half an acre. What is the result? The haymakers have made all the grass that was cut the first week into hay, and are standing about idle, unable to proceed, but still drawing their wages from the unfortunate agriculturist. The hot sun is burning on—better weather for haymaking could not be—but there is not a rood of grass cut for them to work on. After a while the mowers come back, thoroughly tired and exhausted with their debauch, and go on feebly to work. There is hope again. But our climate is notoriously changeable. A fortnight of warm, close heat is pretty sure to breed a thunderstorm. Accordingly, just as the scythes begin to lay the tall grass prostrate again, there is a growl in the sky, and down comes the rain. A thunderstorm unsettles the weather, and here is perhaps another week lost. The farmer dares not discharge his haymakers, because he does not know but that he may require them any day. They are put to turn dung-heaps, clean out the yards, pick up the weeds in the garden, and such like little jobs, over which they can dawdle as much as they like. All the while they are on full pay. Now, what manufacturer could endure such conduct as this? Is it not enough to drive a saint out of his patience? Of course the larger farmers who can afford it have the resource of the mowing-machine, but there are hundreds and thousands of farms upon which its sharp rattle has not yet been heard. There is still a great divergence of opinion as to its merits, many maintaining that it does not cut so close to the ground, and therefore wastes a large percentage of the crop, and others that the action of the scissor-like knives bruises the grass, and prevents it growing up into a good after-math. Therefore many farmers who could afford it will not admit the mowing-machine into their fields, and the mowers may still be seen at work over miles and miles of meadow, and are still the plague of the agriculturist. The arable farmer has just the same difficulty to keep his labourers at their work, and unless he is constantly on the watch valuable time is lost daily. In the harvest, however, he has an advantage. The corn is reaped by piece-work, and the labourers therefore strain every nerve to do as much as they can. But then he must be on the lookout to see that they do not “scamp” it.”

See also former posts ‘Women in the Fields’: http://wp.me/p5jhXU-1r

and ‘The Story of the Wheat’: http://wp.me/p5jhXU-1y

 

‘Under the Snow’ by Richard Jefferies

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Photo by Rebecca Welshman 

“The smallest boughs and the tiniest twigs are coated on the upper part with a white rib of snow; for the flakes, scarcely slanting in their fall before the light air, rest on the first thing they touch; so that even the laurel leaves, which droop with the frost, are covered, and the crinkled holly-leaves hold the snow as if their spines grasped it like a claw. In the hedge the very peggles on the hawthorn bush are tipped—red fruit beneath, white snow above—and appear enlarged to twice their real size. The fields are levelled—the furrows filled and the clods hidden: a smooth white surface everywhere. Over the broad brook the branches of the trees hang low, heavily weighted, and dip their slender points in the water, black by contrast. Dark and silent, the stream flows without a ripple or a murmur against its frozen shores. But in the afternoon, when the sun shines in a cloudless sky, there floats above the current a golden vapour lit up by the rays. The sun sinks lower, and the disc becomes ruddy as it enters the mist above the horizon. Night falls, and the frost sharpens and the snow hardens on the boughs. Then in the morning as the sun rises the eastern side of the wood becomes glorified exceedingly. Each slender snow-laden branch—all the interlaced pattern of the trees—glows with an exquisite rosy light. Another day, a third, and still the beautiful snow lies everywhere. It shrinks a little, because now the tops of the larger clods in the ploughed fields are visible. There is a group of such dark clods in one place—eight or nine close together. Suddenly one moves: then another detaches itself and creeps a yard away: it is, in fact, a covey of partridges crouching hopelessly on the snow. These birds, like others that obtain their food on the ground, endure great privation when it is not only covered with snow but frozen hard beneath. It is indeed difficult to understand how they find sufficient to support life. They enter rickyards where the snow is partially cleared by the men; they venture, too, into gardens that are not immediately under the windows of a house. Their roosting-place—on the ground—is easily dis­covered during the snow, because it is partly scratched away and melted there and appears a darker patch in the white field. At other times the covey separates, and the various members spread abroad to feed, calling each other, and rejoining at dusk; but in bitter weather they remain together. To the hawthorn bush by the roadside, where the peggles are tipped with snow, a fieldfare comes as we go by, shaking down a shower of snow as he alights, but just beyond reach of the walking-stick. Though we pause and watch his motions he does not fly, but scrambles farther into the bush, bringing down fresh showers; so tame, or rather so bold, has hunger made him. The fieldfare is usually so wild that it is not possible to approach within gunshot, unless by a stratagem. Upon the lower branches of an elm—those that project from the trunk like brushwood—sits a redwing, his feathers puffed out, and betraying no trace of alarm. Though they come from the north, redwings seem among the first to suffer; a few days’ snow like this quite debilitates them, and they have not even the energy to escape. A stone, a stick, anything will bring them down; and they are killed in numbers by cats when they venture into gardens, as they constantly do. Another sits on the bank, partly hidden by the ground-ivy that there clothes a slight projection which, like a roof, has kept the snow from a tiny terrace. In the ditch, which is deep, the water is frozen, but the sides are a little moist near the bottom still, and to these places come the garden thrushes and blackbirds. At the gateway there is a short arched culvert for the water to pass through; it is dry now, and these birds enter the mouth, rinding that in this cellar-like spot the frost is not so hard.

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Photo by Rebecca Welshman

There is a place in the copse where, under the shelter of the trees and behind a thicket of briar and thorn, scarcely any snow has penetrated. It is overgrown with low brambles, and is several inches thick with dead leaves. These keep the frost away from the earth in the same manner as a mat, and here eight or ten blackbirds and thrushes are busily at work pulling up the leaves and searching beneath them. They quarrel constantly about the best localities, and drive each other away, fighting for existence. It is often remarked that the thrush dies quicker than any other bird in severe weather; and a comparison has been made between it and the tiny golden-crested wren, which scarcely heeds the frost or snow, as if the former was a delicate bird. The contrast is not just. The reason why the thrush dies so soon is because he is starved. Those who have watched the thrush, at ordinary times must have observed the really immense quantities of worms, snails, and similar food he consumes. The moment the ground is frozen all this is shut off from him, and he languishes. If frost be accompanied by continued snow he perishes. But the elegant golden-crested wren is not starved: his food of insects is not buried by the snow or rendered inaccessible by frost. He may be seen entering every bramble bush, and peering under the leaves there which yet remain green. There are a thousand and one places where insects lie torpid—under leaves, in the crevices of bark, and so on—perfectly well known to this happy little creature. The birds that feed on the ground suffer most; next, those that put much reliance on seeds or grain; those that may be called tree birds do not endure so much. The blue tomtit literally looks everywhere: in the porch, under the rafters of cowsheds and outhouses, even inside the open box that protects the bell-wire at the outer gate, and may be seen clinging to the boards against which the bill-poster sticks his advertisements, and looks under the strips of torn paper.

photos from christmas to April 2011 009

Photo by Rebecca Welshman

Passing further up the road, the rooks have discovered an arable field, where, just before the snow fell, manure had been carted out and left in small heaps for spreading. These are now covered with snow, but near the bottom are perhaps not quite frozen. An oak-tree, white to the smallest twig, stands solitary in the midst. A whole flock of rooks are perched on it; every two or three minutes some descend to the immediate neighbourhood of the manure heaps, and after a short interval rise with a feeble caw and rest upon a branch. There is a perpetual stream of rooks like this passing up and down. The very bough the rook roosts on at night is coated with frozen snow, though his weight as he alights shakes it off in some degree under his claws. In the ash-trees by a farmhouse some hundreds of starlings are perched; the tree is black with them, and there is a long row on the railings round the rickyard beneath; but they are silent. At another time there would have been a continuous calling—a noise rising and sinking, a confusion of tongues: now they sit still and quiet. Then they would barely have remained in one place three minutes: now they do not seem to care to move at all. Their food, too, is cut off from them. Judging by the few flocks that are to be seen about, it would appear as if numbers must have left the district. So too, with the wood-pigeons. Just before the snow there were crowds of them in all the arable fields, to the annoyance of the farmers. Not a single flock is now visible. From out of a double mound one single wood-pigeon rises, so close that every marking of his feathers is apparent. He lifts himself heavily, as if wounded, but once in the air flies easily enough, though he goes but across a single field and alights in a tree: he is weakly for want of food.

Sheep-pens, where the snow has been removed by manual labour, or trodden down and melted by the sheep themselves, are favourite places with the birds in hard weather. The common wagtail is a frequenter of sheep-pens: half a dozen or more may be noticed at once on the ground there. Tat-tat—top-top-top!—a kind of quiet tapping sounds in the higher branches of a tall elm fifty yards away. A bird is clinging to the side of a bough; his head is thrown back, and every few seconds he delivers a sharp blow with his beak, peers again, climbs further up, gives a series of quick raps, and then flies to the next tree. A slight shower of snow falls from the bough on which he alights; in a minute the tapping sounds again; and thus he visits every elm in the hedgerow. It is the nuthatch, and it is surprising how far the quiet tap-tap can be heard in the stillness. When the foliage is thick on the trees in summer, though the tap may be heard, it is not so easy to watch his motions; the fall of the leaf is like removing a screen. A rustling, scratching sound on the bank where it is overhung by a stole, and clear of snow, shows that the hedge-mice are about, despite the severe weather. Some one, perhaps a sportsman, has dropped an empty fuse-box, without a lid, in the hedge. The scratching proceeds from this box—there is a mouse in it. The tiny creature is so small that the box, which is merely supported by a few dead oak leaves, allows it to turn round easily. He scratches and sniffs at every corner—pauses, and scratches again, as if in desperate hope that there must be something eatable about it. At last he gives up the useless attempt, and disappears under the oak leaves. Some distance further there is another rustling: something here is darting to and fro with an eager motion under the ground-ivy. This time it’s a weasel, whose hunting is greatly favoured by the snow. If it were deep it would not suit him; but two inches are just sufficient to weaken the prey, and yet cause him no inconvenience in chasing it. Rabbit tracks are everywhere in the snow, and especially round and round a long narrow mound in the open field, where the farmer has stacked his roots and covered them with straw and earth as a protection against the frost.”

“In the Midst of the Stream of Light”: recognising the soul

‘The Life of the Soul’ selected & introduced by Simon Coleman

 rj image butterfly 001

In a short, untitled, autobiographical piece of writing, probably dating from the last five years of his life, Jefferies turns his mind inwards towards the inexpressible thought that had haunted his entire adult life.  He wrote in his autobiography, The Story of My Heart: “as the brook ran winding through the meadow, so one thought ran winding through my days.”  The second part of this sentence is reproduced in the untitled piece which was eventually published in 1948, in S.J. Looker’s collection The Old House at Coate.  Looker gave the manuscript the title, “The Life of the Soul”, recognising it as a pure fragment chipped from the edifice of Jefferies’ thought and life-expression.

In his autobiography Jefferies sought to “free thought from every trammel”, believing in the infinite potential of the human mind.  His “one thought” was the hidden impulse driving his desire for the most complete freedom of mind, health of body, and power of soul that he could conceive.

In the following quotations from the “Life of the Soul” manuscript, we become aware of the deep currents of his inner life.  Jefferies uses the things of outer nature as symbols as he strives to communicate his Thought, aware that words are painfully inadequate for this purpose.  The Thought is present wherever there is light and earth, but he knows that it really moves within: it is his life.

The manuscript might have been connected to the composition process for The Story of My Heart, or it might have been written later.  The language shows some differences to that in the autobiography.  It is calmer, less concerned with an active search for something, and more internally focused.  It is certainly less polished and in places resembles a collection of notes brought together.  But it has a force that comes from true engagement with natural beauty, and from a life whose physical, emotional and imaginative aspects were finely interwoven.  It does have some poetic touches, such as, “feeling the existence of the soul – in the midst of the stream of light – in the way of the rush of the wind.”

Jefferies is forever on the side of life, seeking an enlarged consciousness of its beauty.  This is ultimately gained through the ‘higher’ faculties: the mind (in its infinite aspect), the heart and the soul.  He doesn’t always differentiate between them: ‘heart’, after all, was in the title of the autobiography.  Nor does he ever forget the wonder of the body and its senses.  He reminds us in “The Life of the Soul” that the physical or material is the opening to other, ‘immaterial’ levels of existence.

Jefferies had complete conviction that we possess the power to make real inner discoveries for ourselves, regardless of the dispiriting routines of life.  These possibilities are near, but sometimes seem distant or lost to our daily lives.  He looked forward to a time when the ‘language’ of the soul could be ‘translated’ and fully understood.  To bring this ideal a few steps nearer was, I believe, the true mission of his life.

woods

“THE LIFE OF THE SOUL”

 

“The dawn to me is when I open my eyes, and my first thought is of my prayer, repeated by that thought, the same prayed on the hills and everywhere else so long.

 

The light is the first thing I see, and by the light I say: Give me the reality of the feeling, which comes into existence with life.  I am awakened and I live, give me that fullness of existence which I have so long desired and the idea of which is given by the light and by every loveliness of the earth.

 

But the sun has been up for many hours, and the summer day is already far advanced. I feel that I have lost these hours, this light and beauty which has been pouring over the wheat and the meadows, over the woods and sea, all this time….Must I always feel that it has been going by me like a stream?

 

The wheat-ear as it turns yellow has taken the sunlight and the beauty into itself.  So I would take the beauty into myself.

 

But I have the same desire when there is nothing about me – nothing but walls – when I cannot see the outside earth or the sunlight – the same desire in my mind; it is like a thirst of the mind, like a drawing-in the breath for this beauty in itself.  It does not exist as a separate thing, I know, but I desire that which answers to it – which I read from it – in my mind.  The letters or the words of a book are nothing – but the thought they give is real.  The sunlight and the wheat-ear are the letters and the word: the thought that comes is real; and I feel it when they are not visible.

 

…The pressure of every day, of doing things, puts it aside, but if I stay still as it were for a moment and think of myself, the same wish returns unending, though the surroundings of the moment be commonplace and dusty enough. The thought runs winding through my days.

 

It is in me and within the sunbeam, or the wheat-ear, or the grass.  In the secret, separate entity of the soul, wishing, impelled to it, it almost represents or is my soul…

 

Why have I not gone forth for this soul life, searching for it more by the forest and by the sea?

 

That I may see through the sunlight and the earth, the enclosure with which the mind is surrounded, the wall, into the depth of the soul behind…let me see beyond, deeper through.  It is not the air that blows over the dry, rustling barley; not the warm sunshine; not the earth with the flowers; not the water, nor the light; it is the thing beyond, which I would see and feel…

 

There is not one of us but has a mind-power of which he hardly dreams.  Touching a flower, we seem as if we were absorbing something of this dormant mind-power.  It flows from the flower, like its odour.  The perfume of the flower cannot be written.  The violet cannot be expressed in words, though it is material.  There is no language, yet, to express the feeling which flows from the flower.  From the touch of the green sward a feeling flows as if the great earth sent a mystic perfume – an immaterial influence – through the frame.  More of this influence: more and more; it cannot be translated, yet, but it can be felt.  Some day it will be translated; it is like hovering on the verge of a great truth.

 

We can only get at the immaterial through the material.  How many books must be written to explain it; and even then, would it be explained?

 

So that the thought that there is more yet for the mind can be put in a sentence, but requires pages to explain.  It is not that the mind is limited and cannot understand: it is that the facts have not yet been put before it.  Like a lens, the mind can only examine that which is passed before it.  Those things which are dimly shadowed forth by the flower, the leaf, the very touch of earth – which are felt, rather than perceived – have not yet been put before it…

 

Many of us have partially recognised the existence of a current of unconscious thought, which gradually works its way and decides our course, even against our own waking decisions.  We get a glimpse of such a current now and then, and lose sight of it again…

 

The feeling caused by the view of flower and distant hill-line – the very touch of the green sward – is it not a recognition of our own life? It is seeing – feeling the existence of the soul – in the midst of the stream of light – in the way of the rush of the wind.

 

In daily routine and work we really forget ourselves.  Here the light and air recalls us.  Give us more of our inner selves: not the course, rude, outer covering, and its wishes, but of the inner secret existence.  That inner secret existence desires nothing but beauty.  But the word ‘beauty’ is weak to carry the feeling meant.

 

Those who have ever experienced the depth of this feeling must perforce pray with every glimpse of sunlight and of the unknown beyond.

‘January in the Sussex Woods’ by Richard Jefferies

woodlands co ukSource: woodlands.co.uk

The lost leaves measure our years; they are gone as the days are gone, and the bare branches silently speak of a new year, slowly advancing to its buds, its foliage, and fruit. Deciduous trees associate with human life as this yew never can. Clothed in its yellowish-green needles, its tarnished green, it knows no hope or sorrow; it is indifferent to winter, and does not look forward to summer. With their annual loss of leaves, and renewal, oak and elm and ash and beech seem to stand by us and to share our thoughts. There is no wind at the edge of the wood, and the few flakes of snow that fall from the overcast sky flutter as they drop, now one side higher and then the other, as the leaves did in the still hours of autumn. The delicacy of the outer boughs of the great trees visible against the dark background of cloud is as beautiful in its own way as the massed foliage of summer. Each slender bough is drawn out to a line; line follows line as shade grows under the pencil, but each of these lines is separate. Great boles of beech, heavy timber at the foot, thus end at their summits in the lightest and most elegant pencilling. Where the birches are tall, sometimes the number and closeness of these bare sprays causes a thickening almost as if there were leaves there. The leaves, in fact, when they come, conceal the finish of the trees; they give colour, but they hide the beautiful structure under them. Each tree at a distance is recognisable by its particular lines; the ash, for instance, grows with its own marked curve.

Some flakes of snow have remained on this bough of spruce, pure white on dull green. Sparingly dispersed, the snow can be seen falling far ahead between the trunks; indeed, the white dots appear to increase the distance the eye can penetrate; it sees farther because there is something to catch the glance. Nothing seems left for food in the woods for bird or animal. Some ivy berries and black privet berries remain, a few haws may be found; for the rest, it is gone; the squirrels have had the nuts, the acorns were taken by the jays, rooks, and pheasants. Bushels of acorns, too, were collected by hand as food for the fallow deer in the park. A great fieldfare rises, like a lesser pigeon; fieldfares often haunt the verge of woods, while the redwing thrushes go out into the meadows. It can scarcely be doubted that both these birds come over to escape the keener cold of the winters in Norway, or that the same cause drives the blackbirds hither. In spring we listen to Norwegian songs—the blackbird and the thrush that please us so much, if not themselves of Scandinavian birth, have had a Scandinavian origin. Any one walking about woods like these in January can understand how, where there are large flocks of birds, they must find the pressure of numbers through the insufficiency of food. They go then to seek a warmer climate and more to eat; more particularly probably for sustenance.

The original and simple theory that the majority of birds migrate for food or warmth is not overthrown by modern observations. That appears to be the primary impulse, though others may be traced or reasonably imagined. To suppose, as has been put forward, that birds are endowed with a migratory instinct for the express purpose of keeping down their numbers, in order, that is, that they may perish in crossing the sea, is really too absurd for serious consideration. If that were the end in view, it would be most easily obtained by keeping them at home, where snow would speedily starve them. On the contrary, it will appear to any one who walks about woods and fields that migration is essential to the preservation of these creatures. By migration, in fact, the species is kept in existence, and room is found for life. Apart from the necessity of food, movement and change is one of the most powerful agencies in renewing health. This we see in our own experience; the condition of the air is especially important, and it is well within reasonable supposition that some birds and animals may wish to avoid certain states of atmosphere. There is, too, the question of moulting and change of plumage, and the possibility that this physiological event may influence the removal to a different climate. Birds migrate principally for food and warmth; secondly, on account of the pressure of numbers (for in good seasons they increase very fast); thirdly, for the sake of health; fourthly, for sexual reasons; fifthly, from the operation of a kind of prehistoric memory; sixthly, from choice. One or other of these causes will explain almost every case of migration.

winter_bird_wallpaper_d2411Source: http://gardensupplyco.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/winter_bird_wallpaper_d2411.jpg

Birds are lively and intellectual, imaginative and affectionate creatures, and all their movements are not dictated by mere necessity. They love the hedge and bush where they were born, they return to the same tree, or the same spot under the eave. On the other hand, they like to roam about the fields and woods, and some of them travel long distances during the day. When the pleasurable cares of the nest are concluded, it is possible that they may in some cases cross the sea solely for the solace of change. Variety of food is itself a great pleasure. By prehistoric memory is meant the unconscious influence of ancient habit impressed upon the race in times when the conformation of land and sea and the conditions of life were different. No space is left for a mysterious agency; migration is purely natural, and acts for the general preservation. Try to put yourself in a bird’s place, and you will see that migration is very natural indeed. If at some future period of the world’s history men should acquire the art of flying, there can be no doubt that migration would become the custom, and whole nations would change their localities. Man has, indeed, been always a migratory animal. History is little beyond the record of migrations, how one race moved on and overcame the race in front of it. In ancient days lots were cast as to who should migrate, and those chosen by this conscription left their homes that the rest remaining might have room and food. Checking the attempted migration of the Helvetii was the beginning of Caesar’s exploits. What men do only at intervals birds do frequently, having greater freedom of movement.

Who can doubt that the wild fowl come south because the north is frozen over? The Laplander and the reindeer migrate together; the Tartars migrate all the year through, crossing the steppes in winding and devious but fixed paths, paths settled for each family, and kept without a map, though invisible to strangers. It is only necessary to watch the common sparrow. In spring his merry chirp and his few notes of song are heard on the roof or in the garden; here he spends his time till the broods are reared and the corn is ripe. Immediately he migrates into the fields. By degrees he is joined by those left behind to rear second broods, and at last the stubble is crowded with sparrows, such flocks no one would believe possible unless they had seen them. He has migrated for food, for his food changes with the season, being mainly insects in spring, and grain and seeds in autumn. Something may, I venture to think, in some cases of migration, be fairly attributed to the influence of a desire for change, a desire springing from physiological promptings for the preservation of health. I am personally subject twice a year to the migratory impulse. I feel it in spring and autumn, say about March, when the leaves begin to appear, and again as the corn is carried, and most strongly as the fields are left in stubble. I have felt it every year since boyhood, often so powerfully as to be quite unable to resist it. Go I must, and go I do, somewhere; if I do not I am soon unwell. The general idea of direction is southerly, both spring and autumn; no doubt the reason is because this is a northern country.

Rabbit Warren 1b cpt Bob CoyleSource: http://data.wildlifetrusts.org/sites/default/files/imagecache/reserve_web_large/sites/data.live.wt.precedenthost.co.uk/files/Rabbit%20Warren%201b%20cpt%20Bob%20Coyle.jpg

Some little green stays on the mounds where the rabbits creep and nibble the grasses. Cinquefoil remains green though faded, and wild parsley the freshest looking of all; plantain leaves are found under shelter of brambles, and the dumb nettles, though the old stalks are dead, have living leaves at the ground. Grey-veined ivy trails along, here and there is a frond of hart’s-tongue fern, though withered at the tip, and greenish grey lichen grows on the exposed stumps of trees. These together give a green tint to the mound, which is not so utterly devoid of colour as the season of the year might indicate. Where they fail, brown brake fern fills the spaces between the brambles; and in a moist spot the bunches of rushes are composed half of dry stalks, and half of green. Stems of willow-herb, four feet high, still stand, and tiny long-tailed tits perch sideways on them. Above, on the bank, another species of willow-herb has died down to a short stalk, from which springs a living branch, and at its end is one pink flower. A dandelion is opening on the same sheltered bank; farther on the gorse is sprinkled with golden spots of bloom. A flock of greenfinches starts from the bushes, and their colour shows against the ruddy wands of the osier-bed over which they fly. The path winds round the edge of the wood, where a waggon track goes up the hill; it is deeply grooved at the foot of the hill. These tracks wear deeply into the chalk just where the ascent begins. The chalk adheres to the shoes like mortar, and for some time after one has left it each footstep leaves a white mark on the turf. On the ridge the low trees and bushes have an outline like the flame of a candle in a draught—the wind has blown them till they have grown fixed in that shape. In an oak across the ploughed field a flock of wood-pigeons have settled; on the furrows there are chaffinches, and larks rise and float a few yards farther away. The snow has ceased, and though there is no wind on the surface, the clouds high above have opened somewhat, not sufficient for the sun to shine, but to prolong the already closing afternoon a few minutes. If the sun shines to-morrow morning the lark will soar and sing, though it is January, and the quick note of the chaffinch will be heard as he perches on the little branches projecting from the trunks of trees below the great boughs. Thrushes sing every mild day in December and January, entirely irrespective of the season, also before rain.

Chanctonbury Ring looking east   13 Feb 09   (Richard Reed)   SDS  CNP

View from Chanctonbury Ring, Sussex. Source: http://www.patadventures.com/wp-content/uploads/SOUTH-DOWNS-Chanctonbury-Ring-looking-east-February-2009-Richard-Reed.jpg

A curious instance of a starling having a young brood at this time of the year, recently recorded, seems to suggest that birds are not really deceived by the passing mildness of a few days, but are obliged to prepare nests, finding themselves in a condition to require them. The cause, in short, is physiological, and not the folly of the bird. This starling had had two previous broods, one in October, and now again in December-January. The starling was not, therefore, deceived by the chance of mild weather; her own bodily condition led her to the nest, and had she been a robin or thrush she would have built one instead of resorting to a cranny. It is certain that individuals among birds and animals do occasionally breed at later periods than is usual for the generality of their species. Exceptionally prolific individuals among birds continue to breed into the winter. They are not egregiously deceived any more than we are by a mild interval; the nesting is caused by their individual temperament.

The daylight has lingered on longer than expected, but now the gloom of the short January evening is settling down fast in the wood. The silent and motionless trees rise out of a mysterious shadow, which fills up the spaces between their trunks. Only above, where their delicate outer branches are shown against the dark sky, is there any separation between them. Somewhere in the deep shadow of the underwood a blackbird calls “ching, ching” before he finally settles himself to roost. In the yew the lesser birds are already quiet, sheltered by the evergreen spray; they have also sought the ivy-grown trunks. “Twit, twit,” sounds high overhead as one or two belated little creatures, scarcely visible, pass quickly for the cover of the furze on the hill. The short January evening is of but a few minutes’ duration; just now it was only dusky, and already the interior of the wood is impenetrable to the glance. There rises a loud though distant clamour of rooks and daws, who have restlessly moved in their roost-trees. Darkness is almost on them, yet they cannot quite settle. The cawing and dawing rises to a pitch, and then declines; the wood is silent, and it is suddenly night.

‘Light and Dark: Richard Jefferies was more than a Nature Writer’

by Rebecca Welshman

While many of Jefferies’ books can be read and enjoyed for their countryside observations, with their hidden depths and breathtaking description, there is another side to his works which is often overlooked. Jefferies celebrated the sun – he sought to bring more light into the world and to illuminate and improve the human condition. In a rare early poem, Jefferies declares his ambition to help alleviate suffering and loosen the grip of superstition that he believed kept the mind locked in place:

“Full of thoughts of past and future
Took I there a solemn vow —
Darkness I will overthrow!
List, my voice like clarion sounding,
Dreading neither priest nor ban,
He alone is abbot — hero,
Who can bless his fellow man” – ‘The Grave of the Last Abbot’ (1869)

Jefferies’ ‘solemn vow’ to ‘overthrow’ the darkness that he perceived to shroud existence eventually took the form of The Story of My Heart – a book charged with images of light, fire and burning. The Story of My Heart is not only a record of spiritual development but a chronology of the struggle between light and dark in the soul. Jefferies refers to ‘dust’, ‘infernal darkness’, the ‘void’ of space, and to personal loneliness and despair. In his account of difficult former years, he recalls the isolation and sense of crisis he experienced:

“years bringing much suffering, grinding the very life out; new troubles, renewed insults, loss of what hard labour had earned, the bitter question: Is it not better to leap into the sea?” – The Story of My Heart

Jefferies did not have any easy life. After falling ill in his late teens he never regained full health. He died aged 38 from Tuberculosis – a particular form that gave him unbearable pain in his spine and stomach, and resulted in partial paralysis. He struggled to make a living as a writer, with most of the proceeds of his successful works going on medical bills. At the time he died, and through no fault of his own, he left his young family almost entirely destitute. And yet, during his illness and in the year of his death – 1887 – he produced some of his most movingly beautiful works.
howardavidjohnson The_Flower_Fairy_print_Z57

Through all, Jefferies’ desire to express beauty endured and grew stronger. In ‘The Pageant of Summer’ the beauty and movement of the season unfolds in his heart. An unseen but deeply felt presence dwells in the summer fields and connects him with everything around:

“Straight go the white petals to the heart; straight the mind’s glance goes back to how many other pageants of summer in old times! When perchance the sunny days were even more sunny; when the stilly oaks were full of mystery, lurking like the Druid’s mistletoe in the midst of their mighty branches. A glamour in the heart came back to it again from every flower; as the sunshine was reflected from them, so the feeling in the heart returned tenfold. To the dreamy summer haze, love gave a deep enchantment, the colours were fairer, the blue more lovely in the lucid sky. Each leaf finer, and the gross earth enamelled beneath the feet. A sweet breath on the air, a soft warm hand in the touch of the sunshine, a glance in the gleam of the rippled waters, a whisper in the dance of the shadows. The ethereal haze lifted the heavy oaks and they were buoyant on the mead, the rugged bark was chastened and no longer rough, each slender flower beneath them again refined. There was a presence everywhere, though unseen, on the open hills, and not shut out under the dark pines. Dear were the June roses then because for another gathered. Yet even dearer now with so many years as it were upon the petals; all the days that have been before, all the heart-throbs, all our hopes lie in this opened bud. Let not the eyes grow dim, look not back but forward; the soul must uphold itself like the sun. Let us labour to make the heart grow larger as we become older, as the spreading oak gives more shelter. That we could but take to the soul some of the greatness and the beauty of the summer!”

Like the flowers of summer that seek the sun, the soul ‘must uphold itself’, even through the darkest times. Hope lies in the open bud of the future. Similar messages can be found in many of Jefferies’ later writings. In ‘Walks in the Wheatfields’, he recalls seeing a fox hunt passing through a field on a winter’s day. The scene is barren and bleak, but for the blades of young wheat which push through the soil. In these tiny shoots Jefferies finds a message of strength and resilience for the future:

“the foxhounds carry a bee-line straight from hedge to hedge, and after them come the hoofs, prospecting deeply into the earth, dashing down fibre and blade, crunching up the tender wheat and battering it to pieces. It will rise again all the fresher and stronger, for there is something human in wheat, and the more it is trampled on the better it grows. Despots grind half the human race, and despots stronger than man–plague, pestilence, and famine–grind the whole; and yet the world increases, and the green wheat of the human heart is not to be trampled out.”

Countryside-fields-Nottinghamshire

Source: http://1280x1024desktopwallpapers.jennifer-morrison-pics.com/images/Wallpaper/Landscapes/Countryside-fields-Nottinghamshire.jpg