On my way down the lane I meet friends from the village returning from walking their dog. They describe having seen a fox and two deer at unusually close quarters. As I discovered after my recent fox cub experience, there's an element of mild competition about discussing wildlife encounters with local friends, of the 'I'll see your two deer and raise you five fox cubs' variety, which is quite entertaining, as well as instructive, since it makes you realise that for people who are out in the valley regularly, such as dog walkers, there is plenty of wildlife to be seen.
A brilliantly sunny morning, but chilly for this time of year, feeling almost autumnal, which is slightly worrying as it's still only early July.
Pause for a Chris Packham moment as I discover a little mound of poo. All those of a sensitive disposition, look away now. This does not look like the usual (i.e. dog's) and some of it has a twisty tail coming off it which (I seem to remember from Springwatch) means it could be fox. Nearby are signs of shallow digging, so someone, fox or otherwise, was busy here recently. Why do I get excited about finding signs of the other mammals who share this countryside with me? As my earlier conversation with my dog-walking friends indicates, there are plenty of them about. Can't imagine a badger nosing thoughtfully at a dropped crisp packet and saying 'Hmm - looks like human; wonder what they were up to last night?'
I've got stereo stream noise in my ears; in the left ear, the sound of the stream forcing its way noisily past the fence and its accidental dam of debris, and in the right ear the rush of another set of miniature rapids 10 or 12 feet further on where it flows round a bend and drops over a lip of stones. In fact, this bit of stream is noisy along most of its length; its bed is rocky, and every now and then a jutting rock creates a little rapid, or the roots of a tree induce a tiny waterfall. (I'm piling up the sound recordings now.) Where branches have fallen across the water, creating mini-dams, you get a brief pool of smooth water above the dam, then rapids below, in some places a series of them, like a necklace of smooth pearls held together with twisty ropes. This transition from smooth water to the texture of the rapids fascinates me for some reason I can't quite put my finger on. I try to draw it, to find out, and utterly fail to capture what I'm seeing, only succeeding in fixing it in my mind as something to remember.
I have an odd sense of freedom because this is such a short stretch of stream to cover and I haven't arranged to go any further today, so I don't have to worry about how long it will take me to walk it and can spend time exploring it in as much detail as I like. Also, being a fenced-off garden, it's safe to dump my bag of art kit by a tree for the moment and scramble about the banks of the stream looking closer at things.
Further on are other, smaller holes. The undercutting of the bank suggests to me that at some point the stream had more water in it than now. There are slots in the mud by the stream - maybe deer.
Remind myself to look up. Because the trees are close together here, they have all grown up very tall and slim with few branches at the lower level, but the ashes, in particular, make a beautifully patterned canopy of gold and green, sun and shade.
It's always good to spend time sitting still and drawing - I find it fixes my impressions of a place much more vividly than any amount of looking through a camera lens. Trouble is, I'm not a quick sketcher, and one can capture so many more impressions with a camera. Wish I'd been trained to draw fast. Wish I'd been trained to draw properly...