The walls of the cottage are painted a deep pink, almost terra-cotta which blends so well with the deep green of the hedgerow and the tangles of honeysuckle and jasmine tumbling down the west wall. The dark slate roof shines in the rain, mirroring the slow-moving grey clouds which mask and filter the feeble rays of the watery sun. It is so sad that this ancient habitat, once secluded and peaceful is now overshadowed by a motorway bridge running over it about two hundred yards away, the constant noise shattering the wonder of the place.
He turns through the old iron gate and gingerly negotiates the sticky water-sodden path to the riverside. The way is also dotted with cow-pats in various stages of decomposition. They lay like bovine land-mines waiting for a foot to descend. He continues his way safely and can now walk with ease along the river bank.
The river is rapid and full after the rains last night, the ducks seeming to hang onto the bubbling surface in fear of being washed downstream. The ragged pieces of flotsam hang from trees, thrown there the last time the river was high. The long strands of water-weed hang spaghetti-like from rickety boughs, trailing in the moving sheen of the river’s flow.
It smells of life along the river bank. The smell of wet wood and muddy pools goes hand in hand with farmyard odours, themselves entwined with the green aroma of the growing land. A few bluebells splash their faces across his view, accompanied by buttercups and pimpernels dancing as the raindrops hit them. Ivy clings to almost every tree, beautiful to look at but killing the host as it sucks the life from it. Nature is not just a pretty face, it comes with a sting in its tail.
It is not all nature though, not by any means. The signs of human neglect are everywhere. The inevitable discarded supermarket trolley lies rusting, embedded in the mouldy silt and mud at the river edge, a testimony to our disposable lives. Toilet paper strands festoon the river banks in a sordid ticker-tape parade around the open sewer outlet that gurgles and froths it’s yellow-brown effluent into the already murky waters.
Soft drink cans float by or sit in various stages of rust and decay on the grassy banks among the packaging of their fellow purchases: cigarette packets seem to make up a lot of the litter but running a close second and third are the multi coloured crisp packets and beer bottles which litter his journey like signposts of our times. It is not just the corporations and factories that pollute our planet, it’s the ordinary people. Those fools that leave their litter behind demonstrate a contemporary and consumerist attitude to the world, uncaring and with little idea of cause and effect.
The air changes here, more aromatic, more human, He moves on up wind, the rain biting into his face in its intensity. He shelter for a moment by a concrete and metal structure, painted green. It is a water gauge to check on the depth of the river. The wind dies down a little and He ventures on into the day, passing the holly and the elder trees bordering the farm fields.
The ground is muddy, slippery and sticky where the footpath runs along the river bank, so He walks on the grassy parts instead. He sees the worms on the muddy surface, wriggling this way and that, enticed to the surface by the drumming of the rain upon the ground. The slugs too join the dance, but at a slower, more sedate rate as they celebrate the magic of water falling from the sky. No flies though, too wet and not really warm enough yet.
Not a lot of birdsong this morning, He supposes the birds are hiding from the rain, and there is not a lot to sing about on such a grey, cold day. One of them occasionally braves the weather to fly off in a flurry of wet feathers into the misty rain. A gull calls and chatters in a solitary conversation, it’s mournful cries becoming louder as it swoops down from the grey heavens to float on the rushing river surface. In seconds it is bourn down-stream and floats out of his sight into the fuzzy downpour.
A squirrel leaps from branch to soggy branch, leaves rustling and showering droplets all around. It disappears in seconds as it flurries through the lush green foliage of a young Birch tree, hurrying home to get out of the gently falling rain. No rabbits though, He assumes that they are cuddled up warm and dry in their deep burrows underground.
He stops to light a smoke when he reaches the Iron Bridge, a vast Victorian black-painted iron foot-bridge across the river. Sheltering the flame beneath his coat he manages to light his smoke. Up river the castle is perched above the woods looking down upon the river valley. It breaks the skyline to the north, the turrets jutting proudly into the murky skies, towering above the rushing motorway, the swelling river and the busy village below. A rich mans folly, picturesque but without meaning or purpose.
The early morning traffic roars behind him across the motorway bridge, filled with speeding cars and huge roaring freight wagons, all hurtling on their way, swish! And they are gone, replaced by another and another in an endless stream throughout the day. To his right the rattle and clatter of a passenger train cuts through the other morning songs as it flies past in haste to deliver its bulging carriages of commuters to the city on time.
His smoke consumed He pulls up his collar and continue with his walk, now across a windswept sports-field where boys gather on finer days to play football, rugby and other games. The field is devoid of boys today, in fact he is alone as he perambulate along. The grass needs cutting, the spring spurt of growth stronger and more luxuriant than other times of year has given the green carpet a thicker weave. His feet are cold, so he picks up his pace and soon leaves the field behind him and enter the old canal path.
The old canal lies stagnant and still under the shadow of the trees. Overgrown lily pads cover a lot of the water while long spiky reeds pierce the oily, scummy surface. Rusting iron girders jut like stained and broken teeth from the stagnant murky waters. A sad and empty place which lays silent and dark, dreaming in its greasy slumber of its glory days of industrial importance, of its golden days. A bicycle wheel turns no more but rusts in silence at the bottom of this shallow haunted place. He cuts along the path and stop for a moment near the oak.
He waves good morning to the old oak tree which stands alone, it’s sturdy trunk supporting an immense canopy of leafy green as it has done for hundreds of years. So sad that some idiot has written their name and some inane comment across the stocky trunk in crimson spray paint. A sign of the times he supposes. How many changes has this proud tree seen? How many fools have lived and died while it has stood and witness our follies. But age no longer gains respect in a society hooked on the ‘new’, pumped up on youth and image, but this will pass and the tree will still look on.
He turns back into the road and see a bus lumbering to a splashing hissing halt at the overpopulated bus-stop, grumbling passengers embarking on their journey to a place they would rather not go to if they had a choice. Faces peer from steamed up windows, eyes peeping through round holes wiped in the condensation, rivulets dribbling from the reversed letters of unknown names written on the panes.
The multitude of cars splash past on their commuters-trail into the city, each one a bubble which isolates their passengers from the realities of rain and nature and thus the realities of life. Dry and deodorised they will arrive at their destination unaware that life is passing them by in the fast lane, that they have sacrificed contact with nature for a comfortable ride.
He turns and pushes the key into the red front door and feels the warm air blow past him escaping the confines of the house. He enters and close the door, He is home.