Early this morning, there was a moment of perfect stillness, silent except for birdsong (song thrush, wren, blackbird, dunnock), the crowing of cock pheasants and village roosters, and the ‘chak-chak’ of passing fieldfares. There were no cars, no voices, no hammering or chainsaws. Beneath a fast-moving, pastel sky the parish was a peace.
In fact, these moments are exceptional, even here. Plaxtol has scarcely been a quiet place in all its history. There were always hens, geese and pigs at the farms and cottages. There was a creaking and rattling at well-heads and pump-handles, the chatter of women and children, the rhythmic ringing of the church bell and school bell, the tramp of workers to the paper mills and the pulsing beat of the papermaking machines, the plunk of axes and billhooks in the woods and coppice, and the ting of the smiths’ and wheelwrights’ hammers. The fields, so often empty now, were populated with men – and with women and children at the busy times – going about the labours of farming, the brishing of hedges and the digging of ditches. Before tractors there were steam engines, and before them always the hooves of horses, the jangle of harness and the creak and rumble of carts, and the commands of the waggoners and ploughboys. Young lads used loud rattles to keep the rooks and wood pigeons from the new-sown seeds and the brightly sprouting corn, and the rooks themselves were never silent.
Moments of peace are rare, something to be treasured because they are so fleeting in this constant interweaving of serenity with vitality.
But the past is enduring and all-pervasive. It clings like wood smoke in the hair.
© New Moons For Old, 2015.
Picture credit: detail from ‘Bird Scaring’ by Sir George Clausen (1887) via Wikimedia Commons