Thistle

– Farthing Downs and New Hill, London, September 2012

The living and the dead mingle on the Downs this morning. Meadow brown butterflies kick up from the ruins of grassy tussocks and rusting bramble. They are as shed leaves moved by an autumnal breeze. Brown and orange, one white dot in their black eyespots, they sit in the tops of young, dwarfish oaks, or else are lost to the souring land. Workers have opened up more grassland with chainsaws and fire, stumps of ash are torn and splintered – a battle has taken place here. Jackdaws survey the new clearings, and the old ones, too, a strange officialdom about them, their calls back and forth, scathing blue-grey eye – are they coroners or corvids? This is their work, the image fits.

The yellow rattle has mostly turned, the wind pushing across the road and down the slope. But there isn’t the sound this parasitic plant is named for. There’s the drone of a biplane, probably from Kenley, there’s the teasing whir of a bicycle passing along the cutting, the sound of aging leaves stirring, sycamore yellowed by the changing season. Scabiouses and hawk’s-bits add punctuations of colour to the mushroom-drab Downs, the grey Sunday sky burnt by sun, puddles of blue appearing. In the long grass crickets click like a machine shutting down, the dead and the living mingling on the Downs.

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