Ancient hens, empty nest

Far up on the fellside of Sparty Lea, we’re no strangers to clichés, but it would be nice too if we could develop a few independent thoughts on aging without resorting to the ‘tried and true’. Ooops, probably impossible.

After a year or so of living up here in an empty nest, however, our children having flown the coop for good about a decade ago, we were thrilled to balance out our equity with dear friends the Weltons, and so began our saga of living dangerously in retirement.

As we’ve grown older, we’ve seemed to have provided habitat for more wildlife up here, as our domestic stock has dwindled. Thanks to prompting by David Oakley and Susie White, we planted dozens of meters of hedging, to break up a southern-facing garden into manageable sections, and the little birds that the hedging has elicited are a delight! Meanwhile, our three remaining hens (two received from Andy & Joan Morgan, one from Marlene Kinver) must have felt reprieved after a mild winter, and have started laying again, as grandson Oscar discovered this Monday! Finally earning their keep again, for another season at least.

The buds on the traditional hedge (70% hawthorn, 20% blackthorn, 10% specimen or rose) are beginning to erupt now — one small blackthorn bush is already covered with white blossom. Soon, we hope, tiny eggs will be carefully laid in the nest hidden amongst the brambly branches of new growth; while I can locate it now, I won’t be able to between fresh green leaves.

But that will be okay, as long as the parent birds emerge to find sufficient seed which I scatter at strategic places for them. If they take care of themselves apart from that, more’s the joy, and so much less work for me.

So it feels like a new season is upon us, as the inquisitive pheasant couple perambulate among the daffodil rows, and as I begin a new morning routine of searching for fresh hen’s eggs. Even Mrs. Duck is getting in on the act, laying like a demon to try to make up for her annual failure to hatch ducklings successfully. We’ll not shed any crocodile tears when those quackers eventually die, though I’m pleased that I’ve blocked yet another escape route into the garden from their pond area.

The heavy gardening chores of the season are upon us as well, and not least of these is the potato planting, for which I can hardly wait, as easy as it’s going to be, after all, and then what fun to be anticipating their green shoots. It’s funny though, isn’t it, to reflect on life over the past 30 years, how earnest we were about setting up to live the classic ‘good life’, and how bittersweet it is now to see the domestic stock slip away while the wild-life robustly creeps in to take over.

I’m expecting to be quite content myself, when the time comes, to slip away quietly from domesticated bliss and let a tree grow out of my head, creating a nesting place for wild birds, a sanctuary for song.

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