The music of Beethoven’s Pastoral always conjures up memories of my childhood, of long, warm summer days spent in Wiltshire. I close my eyes and pictures of the old Georgian style house, and stables, the winding lanes, gentle countryside, and the lush grassy Downs, all come flooding back.
Rays from the sun low in the sky, floods the cozy country kitchen with light, while tiny dust particles, a myriad of color, glitter, and dance gaily in the amber rays. With my evening tasks done, I climb onto a window seat and gaze out. The grey slate rooftops that grace the houses opposite catch my attention. In the morning light, they appear dull, just slabs of grey stone, but when it rains, they shine, like polished gunmetal. Tonight, still damp from an earlier shower, they have been transformed again, now they appear iridescent in the light of the sinking sun, taking on the color of the finest black pearls.
Now that all of the evening chores have been completed, the kitchen is quiet. I can hear the bells from the nearby church, pealing joyfully, the ringers must be practicing. My mother tells me to call the dogs for their evening walk. Excited, they, like me, need no second bidding.
The fading sunlight makes the tree-lined lane seem already dark as we start off, but the red brick wall of the Manor house next door still glows magically, the trees from across the street cast playful shadows on it. I know the house is no longer lived in, and I wish I could see into the garden. But the wall is high, and a holly hedge, mixed with brambles acts as a deterrent to all who would like to try climbing over.
When we reach the last cottage in the lane, we linger to enjoy the little flower filled garden. Along the honey colored walls, pink Hollyhocks, stand tall and straight, Delphiniums are planted between them, their topmost blue flowers cheekily peeking into aged windows. Around a rotting wooden porch, climbing roses have taken possession, their red tipped green leaves, and masses of pink showy blossoms grace the aging structure giving it a quiet dignity. Set in a corner, the tiny blossoms of a large gypsophila bush appear golden in the light of the setting sun. The soft, velvety air is filled with the heady perfume of sharp, spicy Night Scented Stock, mingled with the sweet scent of the Gypsophila.
A sleek white cat, with black pointed ears, and a black tail, gently pats at a broad, flat delphinium leaf, investigating a water droplet, laying, jewel-like, on the bed of green velvet. Blissfully unaware of the interlopers on the other side of the wall, the cat daintily makes its way up the path. Dandy deciding to investigate the goings on in the garden, sticks his nose through the gate, the cat stops, hackles rising, furiously hissing, prepares for a confrontation. Hearing the hissing, Trixie rushes in, growling. A gentle woof from Dandy, reassures both, Kitty and Trix. The calm of the evening is restored. I laugh; the dogs and the cat are old friends. Like a time worn play, this scene is replayed every time we pass by.
We take our leave and continue on our way. Taking a turn to the right, we pass the beautiful old church, its bells now silent. In the Churchyard, the old gravestones cast long shadows on the grass.
Here, this stretch of the lane is narrow and more heavily lined with trees. On either side, divided by hedges are open grassy fields. We stop on a narrow bridge and sit on the arched wall. The stream below, swollen by recent rains, is still crystal clear as it runs over its bed of stones. Tiny fishes are weaving and darting their way among the masses of delicious peppery watercress growing there.
The dogs, tugging on their leashes want to be off again, they crisscross the lane, sniffing the banks where brambles, covered with hard red berries, promise a harvest of luscious blackberries in a few weeks. Ahead we can see the darkened outline of the Downs, but they are still a long way off, much too far away to walk on this evening.
We unleash the dogs, finally freed, they snuffle and bark at rabbit holes. Then quickly burrowing under a nearby gate, they bound happily across the field, stopping once in a while to look back reproachfully, as though to say, “Come on slowpoke, this is fun.”
I clamber over the gate, chasing happily after them. It is the best of times, in the sweet, soft, warm, Wiltshire air.