Country diary: An unlikely haven of hedgehogs and house sparrows
I broke my toe over the new year, which has brought a quiet start to 2023. There have been no long walks on the Downs, no runs on the beach. Instead, I hobble with the dog around a park behind my house.
A former brick quarry and landfill site, the park is only so because subsidence issues mean it can’t be built on. There’s a field where children and dogs play (not always in harmony), two patches of trees we call “the woods”, some weedy rose beds and a bank of brambles and nettles. It’s a bit unloved, a bit rough around the edges. Because there are brambles there are hedgehogs, and I am grateful for them. Because there’s an unruly privet hedge there are house sparrows, which surprise dog walkers with loud cheeps at dusk. Sometimes there are chiffchaffs and black redstarts, long-tailed tits and great-spotted woodpeckers. In late summer, I watched dogs gambol around a shopping trolley while a swallow quartered over the grass for insects – a last supper before heading south across the Channel.
Today I am missing the longer stomps and worry that the dog is, too. I needn’t, of course: I watch her sniff every twig and every leaf, every patch of nothing on the cracked tarmac pathway. I find my own twigs to sniff: lime green ivy berries ripening black in the midday sun, rough diamond fissures of white poplar bark. Beneath her paws and my crooked toe there are thousands of lumpy casts made by earthworms, over which herring gulls dance to lure them to the surface for the very last time.
I look up: goldfinches dazzle like baubles among grey branches; a crow watches me throw treats for the dog. I listen to birdsong: robins and great tits, blackbirds and wrens. Soon they’ll be joined by the song thrush and dunnock, the drumming of the great-spotted woodpecker. Soon my toe will be healed and I will once again roam the hills and the beaches. That will be nice, won’t it? I look at the dog – she sniffs a twig.
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