Rain returns in the fretting hours, beating against panes of dream. Early traffic splashes down from Broseley, birds stay hunched in roosts. When the weather breaks, they sally out in the first damp glimmer. At dawn, behind horizon clouds, what is not fire burns what is not day. Sunlight of the new normal is a cool, rinsed thing that draws something not-normal from the water. A mist rises from ponds and brooks. It flows uphill, pale and smoky, following the old green rut of a track, hollowed and abandoned generations ago. What looks like a pasture with a few tall lime trees and a cluster of thorns was once a place of wilder festive gatherings. The mist moves up it with direction and purpose as a processional breath, to pool in open ground beyond the trees.

The day is over quickly and leaves little of itself behind but the tinkling of goldcrests in the ivy and the echoes of gunshots. Dusk is filthy with mud and mystery. On the hill, against a moony lustre in the south-west, there is the slight of a buzzard gliding darker than the edge of trees – a thought just beyond sight. So, whistle. Whistle it back. The buzzard mews, and although the sounds are so unlike, here it comes, turning short spirals in the lighter air, lifting on the central-heating updraught above school buildings towards the hill until it’s overhead.

In a breeze through year’s end, the buzzard takes a speculative turn to inspect the whistler, then without pause or wing movement, swings over pines and the cold quarry hole north. Along the lane it is still mild enough for bats to thread laceholes between trees, and the spirit claps for the almost-touch of wings and ultrasound grins of them. Three tawny owls, one in the wood, one in the lane, one in the field, shake their calls out, triangulating a position. The lane owl, silhouetted in an ash tree, throws its head forward and hoots three times. It retreats into the dark with the studied urgency of a quarry blaster who has lit the fuse in a drill hole of black powder.


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