Farthing Downs, London, July 2014
We leave the chalky, wooded hollow and appear in an ocean of field scabious. The sun setting in the west catches the pale, lilac petals of these daisies. In the other meadows across on New Hill and in Happy Valley greater knapweed has begun to flower, that deep purple gives me the sense of summer’s final movements, splayed florets that say: this is it. The meadows, too, abound with the motorised flight of burnet moths that were not here two weeks ago. Many of them are mating, one pursued by a pair of skippers unwilling to share a flowerhead. I wonder, what harm could a butterfly do a moth? Anthropomorphism excused, their quarrel does have the feel of a playground spat. That landscape is behind us now as we return along the crown of Farthing Downs. The sky is split in half to the west, smears of rain hurrying our return to the urban landscape. The liquid song of the skylark pours from the sky and we search for its shape. After giving in and then locating it I see it some forty-feet up in the sky. My companion can’t quite believe how clearly its song comes yet from so high. We stand, our exit delayed, the two forces of incoming weather and skylark display gluing us to the soft turf of Farthing Downs.
© Daniel James Greenwood 2014
– 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.