Built from timber grey with age, the gate is new. Turquoise algae grows in interstices between upright and cross bracing members. Screws hammered into the wood fasten rusted hinge housings. Blue rope makes the hinge the gate swings on. A stiff bolt secures the gate shut: the gate has to be lifted to allow the bolt to be slid to. But it functions perfectly, completing the boundary and giving entrance into Terry’s field.
Once through the gate, a freshly laid track of bricks and limestone chippings, dusty now in high summer, winds between an opening in a drystone wall then on to a small barn marking the place where three fields meet. There are tyre tracks in the dust, but the fine powder has not been disturbed enough to make dusty the verdant strip of meadow growing down the central line of the track.
The meadow flourishes in the fields the track bisects. The weather has been kind. In the late evening at the end of a warm day, haymaking is underway in neighbouring fields. It is too early. The air is full of skylarks, with shrill voices, defending their nesting places tucked deep within the long stems of the grass being cut. Two more weeks, their young would be fully fledged, but farmers with an eye on a perfect chance to make hay cut regardless.
In Terry’s field the pasture is ripe, long and very green. At the end of the day you can sit and “listen to the field going to sleep,” as the insects quieten and the birds take rest from caring for their young.
There is a leatherette sofa in the field, beneath the eaves of the stone barn. Brown buttons gather the stiff material into dimpled wrinkles. It has wings to lean against, soft cushions to sink into and a carpet of crushed nettles as a foot-stool.
Goodman’s Croft – Terry’s field – is nearly a thousand feet above sea level. From a seat on the sofa, the theatre spreading in front of it takes in the expanse of the Derwent Valley –
wooded gritstone to the east, limestone pasture to the west, the Dark Peak to the north
and rich arable valley in the south.
The solstice has passed but Terry has chosen to let the meadow continue to ripen. It won’t be cut until the end of July. It will remain sap green until then in sharp contrast to neighbouring fields where sheared grass stalks are now a bleached yellow.
The soft evening air is heavy with a lush green scent rising on the zephyrs from the warmed land. The green is augmented by the aroma of spent sap oozing from the cut stems of the hay being made two fields away. The evening is full of sound – skylarks screaming the agony of the slaughter; swallows harvesting insects to feed young tucked in mud nests attached to the rafters of the barn. They dart out of the empty windows and perch on the scaffolding poles giving access to the barn walls. Then letting out staccato trills they dive and rise in the air thick with insects.
By late morning the sun is high and hot in a sky clear of cloud but with a thin skin of haze. Sitting in the meadow of Goodman’s Croft I look through a fine lattice of ripening grasses shot though with flowers in full bloom. Yesterday evening’s storm has bruised the petals of the buttercups. They hang ragged while still attached to the maturing seed in the centre of the calyx. The sparse cream coronas of the plantains contrast with the Yorkshire Fog, its fine seeds making a burgundy mist above the tiny flowers of the course leaved plantain. Moths and butterflies flit around at eye level as I sit in the still damp field, their focus in the mass of green stems with nectar-laden flowers. They juggle a complex series of horizons, too minute for my senses to take in. A cricket raises a call echoing it from a spot closer to me, now further away. The larks alight from the cope-stones on the walls surrounding the fields, quickly getting lost in the blue of the sky as they rise vertically with rapid speed above the meadow floor. You can only guess where they hover by locating the sound of their calls in empty space.
Attention is focused on the detail of this complex society of life. It draws you in, not to a constricted world of diminishing scale but an infinitely expanding domain of ever deepening intricacy.
A cockerel crows across the lane. A little brown beetle flies with lazy speed and a low buzz passed my ear, landing on the paper of my notebook. It wanders around the black maze of letters spread untidily between faint blue lines. I’m becoming assimilated into this busy society, woven into its life as it makes of me a new piece within the ecosystem. My voyeurism is not acceptable here. I have to contribute and become a part of the place I have chosen to be in.
Below the meadow the quarry kicks up a din. I can hear a mechanical pecker at work cleaning off a freshly blasted rock-face. The crumbled limestone it makes is transported to the crusher in large trucks, their engines straining under the load they cart up the gradient out of the quarry pit. The crickets still call again from their perches on the gracefully arching leaves of grass in the meadow. The larks sing in the sky and from the tops of the walls. The stinging repetitive beeping marks the movements of the JCB working in the limestone rubble – all the sounds belong with equal presence in the land into which I’m invited by the beetle walking across my notebook.
The landscape is expansive – monolithic in scale – while with grace and ease accommodating the minutia. The tiny presence of the single ragged hawthorn tree growing across the valley on Masson Hill is no less a feature for its diminutive size in the landscape than is the horizon the great sweep the limestone uplands makes. Scale is a feature of the moment when the land calls for your attention – the beetle, the ragged buttercup petals, the hawthorn tree, the quarry cliffs, the heavy equipment moving in the earth works, the shake the land makes as another charge of explosive is ignited in the quarry.
Terry and Darrell work on the enclosure next to the barn. I can hear them in conversation, last night’s storm the topic – “freshened things up, anyway.” It is fresh, intoxicatingly so.
Today, the meadow lies under another azure sky. It was cut a few days ago. The green turgidity has evaporated. The grasses and flowers have lost their glossy bloom. The hay is turned, the meadow now a pale grey green is raised in parallel waves running the length of the fields. Dust rises as the grass is turned. Caught by the breeze it drifts around the tractor now working to gather the cut meadow into even higher ridges. This process leaves a wake of sound like waves retreating down a slope of shingle gathering itself back into the sea to make another wave of sound.
I enjoy the swirled textile the turning has made of the drying leaves, and the rustle the breeze makes as it dances through the fine lattice of spaces the hay ridges make, sending the sound in ripples the length of the field. Under the wall the sun is hot. The stones of the wall heat the breeze further as it stirs the hay, loosening its sweet scent. Darrell chips away at a cope, then places the stone on the wall he is building around the barn enclosure. It drops into place with a metallic clunk. The swallows still chatter. Bees fly along under the wall through the uncut herbage, butterflies too, but they move silently. Terry returns with the bailer. I can hear his tractor moving along the track. It stops at the entrance to the field by the barn. A moment of silence breaks in. A slight breath of air moves the hay next to my feet. The tractor starts up. Bailing begins. The harvest is now in full progress. By the end of the day, with the help of friends, the newly restored barn will be full of Terry’s first harvest.