For fifty weeks of the year, the cherry trees are just trees, but for two weeks every spring, they are utterly beautiful.
They stride down the slope to the brook at the bottom of the valley, carpeting the old track with white petals, for each year the blossom seems to coincide with a spell of rough weather which rips it prematurely from the boughs. I am taking brief shelter from that very weather, having found my customary resting-place partway down the incline and in the gap between two stands of hawthorn. It has a commanding view of the land around, but I am looking up into branches foaming with white, drinking in their brief glory. Above me, two woodpigeons take ownership of a branch each, cooing hard, walking straddle-legged like a brace of gunslingers figuring out which one should leave town. And above those, a small brown bird darts and pecks at smaller browner creatures that live under the curls of split bark.
The canopy spills over with juvenile squirrels bouncing along an arboreal highway from tree to tree, down and up the entire valley without touching the ground. It is a busy place, up among the cherry blossom.
A dog snuggles between my knees and the hawthorn breaks the weather behind and beside me.
Together we look along and across, up and down the angles of the land.
Rabbits appear out from the hedgerows in ones and twos, then litters of small ones join them, tasting the grass that, weather willing, will be hay later this year.
Just now there is not sufficient depth to hide a rabbit, so they are watchful and wary.
Later in the growing of it, they will sit out further, giving the dog a chance of catching them. Small rabbits may seem inferior quarry, but they eat as much as adults, possibly more, because they are growing. They are also the most delicious eating.
Someone else has the same opinion. Down by the brook - a mere trickle compared to its usual dimensions this time of year - trots a fox, rabbit in mouth. I assume that it is a vixen with a litter, for its fur is draggled and patchy in that unkempt way that vixens have when still suckling.
My dog shifts slightly, the better to see her historical enemy.
Even if the law allowed us still to run them, she would have no chance on the beast unless it were very stupid, which foxes mostly are not, for she is four hundred yards from the fox, which is one hundred yards from cover. Pure geometry, and you didn’t realise dogs could work out angles and coefficients, did you? But she can, does and has, wistfully acknowledging that the task is impossible, though the desire remains.
The fox slips out of sight where we knew it would, and the wind freshens on the hillside to the point that I stand up and start to make my way downwards, followed by one dog and a lazy swathe of petals. Ignoring the rickety plank bridge, I cross the brook bank to bank, because it is so low, and start the pull upwards around the edge of a field of wheat, which having had the benefits of early sowing and some fertiliser, stands higher than the grass in the hay field. In three weeks or so, the roe will come shyly to drop twin fawns, and I will not cross this land then, but for now, the dog can work on, and she casts off into the wind to turn upon a ribbon of scent and hunt it across the green. Ahead, a cock pheasant breaks with its rattling cry, the dog halting and grinning back at me.
There may be a rabbit out yet, so we take the long way round to give her every chance of finding it. The cherry trees will be finished with their glory next time I come this way, so I turn for one last look at dark wood and squandered white, to hold in my mind’s eye until next year.