Today began with a morning in our own garden, then continued with an afternoon in the local farm museum, where I help out occasionally. Volunteers, including me, were taught how to help with the animals, and a few tweens had come along hoping that they could just basically pet the rabbits and the ridiculously tiny pygmy goats. As the day progressed, they became gradually more and more dismayed at how animal care seemed to consist of around eighty percent picking up shit, with the remaining time almost entirely taken up with ensuring they don’t die of thirst.
After all that, and with around an hour of daylight left, I decided to take a quick spin on on my bike. After several recent false starts – often literally – and a complete replacement of the drive train, I had finally got a bike shop to finish the job by fixing a dodgy derailleur hanger; so I wanted to put it through its paces without having to do my usual bloody commute. I wasn’t more than a mile out before I realised that the gearshifting still wasn’t perfect; yet I found myself humming almost silently down a long country lane, passing as many cyclists as cars as I did so.
On a whim, I let my bike come to rest at the top of a hump-backed bridge, and looked around me. The sun was starting to disappear behind banks of mist to the west, but out to the east I could see for a good few miles, and Wytham hill sat sullenly on the edge of visibility. Just over a hundred yards away, though, I was astonished to spot three wild fallow deer… then, four. A couple of them were initially startled by my hilariously tomato-coloured top, but after that they just rambled around carelessly, gnawing almost constantly at the slightly scrubby grass.
Not one to accost strangers, I nonetheless had a sudden urge to share the experience. After a couple of cyclists passed me by and I frustratedly said nothing, I stopped the next one by saying something as banal as “you seen the deer?” He came over gladly and, after gazing at the animals for a while, we fell to talking about the area, the farm museum, and the wildlife we’d both seen. His house was near to ours, but backed onto fields. During really bad seasons, deer and even foxes had got as far as his garden; I mentioned the small muntjac I’d seen near the centre of town, back in early 2010.
We talked about local bird sightings, he having seen a fieldfare one particularly harsh Scandinavian winter. Both of us could tick off goldfinches, although I was able to mention the recent visit of a woodpecker. I added that further evidence since then – I could swear I’d heard it a week or so ago – suggested it had stuck around. At one point he noted something perched on a tree beyond the deer (who had now wandered out into the middle of the field.) With too proud a stance, and too little movement, to be a pigeon, it was something of a mystery.
Meanwhile, another cluster of two or maybe three deer had become visible in a gap into the next field. My companion mentioned red kites, and we both again compared notes on how far distant we’d seen the same breeding pair: they covered, it seemed, an area of radius perhaps five miles. He added that there were buzzards nearby, which I confessed to never having seen in the wild. The bird in the tree took flight, and turned out to be a pigeon after all. This disappointment left us both rather downbeat, and we were both by now clearly thinking of excuses to get away.
Suddenly, the buzzards appeared. One fairly speedily headed off out of sight, while the other wheeled and soared in front of us, as if to say: OK, you can have two minutes of me; but then I’m off. We both drank down those two minutes in respectful silence; then, as if to announce the end of the show, there was the sound of the woodpecker hammering away; after all this, it goes without saying that, still without having exchanged names, we both parted very genially indeed.
I cycled round for a while longer, hoping it would help me digest what had just happened. Then, nearly home, I was buzzed by – of all things – a heron; by that point in the evening, though, superlatives had already failed me and, dazed almost to the point of drunkenness, I carried on home.