Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Pheasants and Mushrooms....

The corn is cut and the stubble is bare. Young pheasants are in abundance, tame flocks along the woodsides, their cocky arrogance reaching its height as they stroll across the roads with damnable indifference, their savage scarlet and electric blue colouring attracting the eye. The pheasant occupies an odd position in English bird life. It is the royal pretender, the pampered scarlet-crowned would-be-king of every field and wood. Fussed and pampered and protected from all manner of evil by armed guards, he leads the sheltered life of a royal heir, and all for one purpose. By an ironical chance he bears the sign of that purpose on his head, the fierce red side-splashes that might be his inheritance of spilt blood. Though he struts like a royal pretender he is, from egg onwards, one thing and one thing only. He is the lamb to the slaughter.

I'm not sure if there are any poachers around here these days. I like to think there are. The poacher, after all, is a survivor, bang in the centre of civilisation he is the last of a race hunting by skill. He is the survivor, now that the smuggler has gone, of the romantic thief, of the hunter who is himself hunted. And what could be more romantic or exciting? in this now placid and smooth-shaven, no longer wild countryside of ours?

I'm riding up to Bagworth. its dry and sunny but with the cool chill of the season in the air. I head into Thorton, past the reservoir before looping back in a wide arc towards Market Bosworth. I pass my own house as I move on towards Barton in the Beans and then the lumpy up and down stretch to Newton Burgoland. The full fruition of things has come: woodnuts hang pale green among the already forming and even paler green of next years catkins, the trees are thinning and light is passing through, the leaf canopy is breaking and all around is a casual spinning down of leaves. I spot a man foraging amongst the leaves at the side of the road - he acknowledges me and I slow to a halt - he is collecting mushrooms. "Not much about" he announces, however his blue plastic bag tells a different story. He tells me he's been gathering since 8.00am - it's now 1.30pm. He shows me a few of his collection, wild, tender, beautiful pink-gilled mushrooms like little white silk parasols - I don't think I could ever be entirely happy as a mushroom collector - the fear of having picked up something lethal would spoil the party for me. A real mushroom is dew-tasty, faintly fragrant of autumn earth and fresh as morning rain - the shop bought variant is like a bird in a cage.

I move on and turn towards Snarestone before taking the road back to Shackerstone and the homeward stretch. There's soft rain now and dark skies ahead. The sun remains but behind me and suddenly I'm feeling the cold. The last few miles are not as good as the first. I'm wet now and a little tired - I labour up the last long drag of a hill thinking about the warmth of the woodburner and a mug of hot tea. Soon I'm home and those thoughts turn into welcome reality.

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