Alex James: The welcome fog

Rural Notebook
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The Independent Online

These bright, clear winter mornings make everything seem closer together: all the confusing detail stripped from the landscape, neighbouring houses seen clearly through the hedges that hide them most of the year; exposed, secretless.

Then suddenly, around the middle of last week, we had the first proper fog of the winter, a whumping great blanket that lingered until after lunchtime, until it got dark again. Couldn't see the garden wall all day. It was easy and rather pleasing to throw a stick beyond the observable horizon into the infinite mists of forever. The whole valley stilled and silenced apart from the odd nervous unseen engine.

"I like it. It's cosy," I declared to everyone in the kitchen, mainly dogs, but this time of year is an acquired taste. No one else had a nice word to spare for the weather.

Saturday was as grey as battleships upstairs and beautifully soft underfoot; cool and inviting. I took to my heels and ran over the fields.

I haven't done that for years. I ran and ran, kept going, until after an hour or so I had no idea where I was, in the middle of a big wood, puffing gently. I hadn't seen a soul since I set out and had settled into a rhythmic trance. It was very Christmassy in the hedgerows; hips and holly.

I suppose it had something to do with the euphoria of a fast beating heart, of the primal pleasure of running into nowhere as fast as I could, but it suddenly occurred to me that away from collapsing high street chains and bankrupt brands is a constant and far more beautiful place anyway.

Those hedges looked more beautiful than I remembered – they always do. I stood breathless, beguiled once more by the gentle, quiet, infinite beauty of the background. Money? Been rich, been poor. The best things in life are free. They always have been, and they always will be.

Following the herd

There is a new smell wafting around the bottom end of the yard: the unmistakeable flowery, apricot-ish twang of dairy cows.

It's a smell that has to be approached with caution. The first time I got a really good whiff of a dairy herd, it put me off my cornflakes for weeks. Now it really intrigues me.

I'm addicted to that smell now and I keep wandering down to have another puff. It's like the smoking form of cheese.

The heron ascending

No deer around, but as I ran past the old lake by the railway line, a heron uncurled itself, padded over the surface of the water and climbed into the sky.

Utterly silent and exotic; magical. That'll be where all the goldfish have gone.