May 30, 2010

This week in wildlife

And so the month goes out wreathed in May, the chalk downland bridal-white, the shady rides scattered with confetti. We drove to Coulsdon and walked across Farthing Downs, the sky above a theatre of clouds, and down into Devilsden Wood with its ancient boundary yews, huge Roman snails and old chalk mines, where the last of the bluebells were fading to palest lilac, the strap-like leaves limp at last. With Happy Valley, named (of course) in the 1970s, they form part of the London Loop (the London Outer Orbital Path), the walker's answer to the M25.
Everywhere the paths billowed with cow parsley, and the fields were golden with buttercups and birds-foot trefoil, and starred between with speedwell. The air smelled of May blossom: sex and death. For such a scrubby, short-lived tree it carries a weight of superstition and meaning, and even now I would not bring a branch indoors.