Wednesday 17 March 2010
Alex James: I feel drawn like a moth to a flame
It was a huge bonfire, a bonfire as big as a house. The heroic scale of modern industry, of 21st-century agriculture is always daunting, like giants are at work: haystacks as big as high-rises are otherworldly, a world that can tend to austerity, but this was the best thing I'd seen for ages. It was better than television or Blu-ray or aeroplanes going over, better than snowdrops.
Irresistibly compelling, it drew me all the way from the other side of the farm: glamorous, dangerous, slightly out of control, like a pretty drunk teenager. The fencers had flattened the whole yard with a digger, made a big pile and torched it. Old gates, fenceposts, broken rails, crushed pallets, a great clump of yew that will smoulder on for weeks. There was barbed wire in there, sheep netting, galvanised tacks popping out of bits of old shed making purple flames. All that, and no one was watching. Grass was on fire. There was smoke and sparks and flames licked the sky like a pack of hungry dogs.
It was a clear day with a stiff breeze. I was wearing a T-shirt, on my way back from a run and no matter where I stood I was too hot on one side and too cold on the other. As I turned my back to the flames, it was as if I was standing by a rushing raging river. It sounded like rushing water. Ah, but the smell. Wood smoke, nothing like it: warm and aromatic but slightly bitter, like tea. I lie down next to the fire. It was impossible not to linger.
Later small children poked things in it, mesmerised, but it wasn't until the following day I could cook a lamb on it. It was still turning out perfect baked spuds and pumpkin slices all weekend. It looked like it was dead, but anything poked into the ashes was on fire instantaneously. You can't beat a real fire.
I must have seen deer every day last week. For lack of a better direction to run in I chased a pair over the river field and lost them in the woods. About an hour later, I saw them again – I'm sure it was the same pair further up the valley. I have become quite attached to them now. I wonder what they are doing, where they sleep?
Flight of the heron
Stoats and weasels are the best things to spot. It stops my heart whenever one of those pops up, but sightings of those are only ever the most fleeting of glimpses. Herons are timid but need time to manoeuvre so there is more time to observe them. They take to the air like they are walking up an invisible spiral staircase. Watching something that big just walk up into the air is a sight for sore eyes.
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