After the deep freeze in early March, now the long drought. It has been hot and dry for weeks and weeks, and trees are stressed and dropping leaves, and flowers are over before they’ve begun, and grass has dessicated to dusty strands and simply stopped: suspended, it is waiting for the skies to open and the air to cool, and it is not alone.
Along the river path, lined with drooping nettles and shrunken brambles, the greens are browning. The river was low and sluggish today; the fields simmered quietly, crops trembling in a heat-haze rather than a breeze. But the path was alive with butterflies – I saw a comma, a gatekeeper, a peacock and a lot of whites, large and small. Apparently the way to tell these apart is to look at the corners. This is a small white, judging by that advice. It looks as though it’s had a stressful summer.
Banded demoselles skimmed the surface of the water. The river was full of the tall reedy greenery that springs up at this time of year, while the plants on the banks were looking healthy enough – clumps of Himalayan balsam, busy with bees; splashes of tansy and the last of the thistles, and a plant I asked Twitter about and was kindly told was small teasel, dipsacus pilosus – tall, thistly flowerheads, with white flowers that were attracting insects.
The big horse chestnut that marks the halfway point between one mill and another is already rusting and the conkers seem very advanced for the third week of July, surely.
A mallard moved her young closer into the reeds as I passed, watching me until she judged I’d moved far enough away. The only other birds I saw were wrens, goldfinches, sparrows and great tits. All the small birds are still ekeing out their riverside lives in this great heat.
On the way back I found a kestrel feather on the path. I’ve seen kestrels from here many times, hunting in the scrubby field next to the water. Now I can’t stop picking up this feather and thinking about the bird it came from.