Rabbits sliding through green wheat like lice

FIELDS acquire names that stay for centuries, sometimes long after the original reason has gone, if the farm stays in the family or else passes from one owner to the next along with its history.

Here, the twelve-acre is now twenty, with two small fields made into one, but still known as the twelve-acre. ‘Spring’ refers not to a season but the spring that feeds the brook field, emerging high on the ridge to make the land wetter at the top of the hill, in the Sussex way, while the brook passes through the marsh field, drained and dry these days but keeping its name still.

I am standing at the top of ‘Cherry’, so called for the long line of cherry trees that sweep down the hill into the brook field. Nobody has ever pruned these trees: they are shaped by Nature, weather and soil, and the birds strip them by right before any fruit has more than a blush of ripening on it.

Between them is old straggling hedgerow that keeps nothing in now, for the farm is all arable these days. The hedgerows are pocked with rabbit-holes, warrens centuries old weaving in and out of the banks where ditches were once dug by hand.

I remember many years ago stalking a russet prick-eared fluffy-tailed beast down this line of hedge, to find out as I peered through the blackthorn that it was not a fox but a cat, miles from any dwelling, fat and sleek from catching whatever it caught.

It stayed for some weeks: I came across it here and there and gave it a wide berth, but something else did not, for I found its mortal remains along with other cadavers by the fox earth in the valley woods. But the woods belong to someone else now, and I do not go there any more.

Cherry blossom scatters in a cold wind that belies the springlike look of the morning. On the ground all the way down the hill lie white petals; how many petals on a tree? It looks like a hailstorm has passed through, but it is squandered blossom.

Are there young rabbits feasting on the new wheat? Not so many yet, but in a few weeks they will be sliding through the green like lice, and we will need to be doing something about that.

Nettles are spreading over the buries, friend of the rabbit and woe to the dog that gets feet or face in them, though a dog will face the sting for the quarry.

I am aware of a darkness and a change in the air above me. I look up and see an amazing sight: a red kite hanging in the air, catching the air currents in its forked tail, wings almost still but for a twisting of the primary feathers. It is but four feet above me, looking down and all around before sliding sideways and checking the ground ahead of me, dropping down and then swinging past me low enough for me to see the feathers on its back.

What a glorious bird! The world hesitates on its axis as I drink in the wild beauty of a creature I have seen but a few dozen times in my life.

It lifts high on the wind and skims up and away: I stare until I can no longer see it, feeling honoured to have been allowed such a long look. A torrent of white blossom lifts on the same wind and pours past me as I turn at last for home.