Passage to Spring

Passage to Spring

A Chapter by Peter Maughan

The passage from late winter to spring in a West Country valley


 Passage to Spring

(from A Moon on its Back)

Peter Maughan


Sweetened by a tower of Norman stone, the bells of Lent, carrying on their ancient sides the names of saints and merchants, squires and parsons, rhymes and prayers, rang out over the village, their peal of eight tumbling in an avalanche of iron down and across the valley, the land from hillside to hillside drowned and ringing.

The sap rose in the bud and creatures, cocooned and near death, stirred in their waxy sleep as the earth's pulse strengthened, and the first colours of spring cut into the land like small healing wounds. On banks the sweet violet grew, and periwinkle and ground ivy and the stars of blackthorn flowers in lanes slashed and spiked still with winter. And in the wood in the palm of the valley, where the gabbling of woodpeckers chased through the bare treetops like squirrels, the primrose, the first rose, flowered, a promise of summer in the winter soil.

.Taking the road down and out of the village, one saw below, in the grounds of what was once the Big House, the constant movement of rooks above the horse chestnuts, fluttering and falling at dusk, breaking like clods of earth above the mating trees. And in the lanes that twist through the valley, a blackbird sang, the notes charged now with courtship, flung high above a fall of dawn rain.

Tender-heavy and dark against the pasture land, the ploughed fields waited for the harrow and the spring corn, and in meadows where later the cattle would lie and the lambs run by the side of the ewes, new grass glowed under a morning of pale sun, and rabbit scuts flashed in the hedgerows. And sweet eyes bright with lust, the hares met in twilight circles and jack tumbled jill or was sent on his way by her, boxed and ringing across the maddening, doe-scented fields.

In the evening, at lambing time, the ewes drifted to their favourite field places, and soon the air quivered with the clamour of birth, the ewes waiting their turn bleating and nosing at the first born of others, the lambs dropped wet and kicking into the sudden, unfocussed light of the world.

Those in need of a foster mother were wrapped in old coats and sweaters and housed in boxes, or in the bottom cool-ovens of farmhouse Rayburns and Agas. There, snug in the warmth and good-smelling darkness, they gazed out amiably when one opened the door, looking, with their glass-like eyes and thick curls of wool, pink-stained with birth, like presents hidden and waiting for little girls and Christmas morning.

There were more than the usual number in need of succour that season, their bawling running through the village for a while like hooligans, waiting for the milk taken from the ewes, warmed and fed to them in front rooms and kitchens. The post mistress took two in, bringing them in with her when she opened up, paying out pensions and stamping postal orders with them sunk in a bed of old cardigans and torn forms in triplicate in a cardboard box next to the radiator. And Stan, the landlord of the Pike, a pub already overrun with dogs in the bars, chickens in the back yard and cats in the outhouses, set one up in an empty Cola box by the large stone fireplace. A soot-black lamb, frolicking when it had found its feet like a fire-blackened imp, sharing the perks of cider and crisps with the house dogs, and bedding down with a couple of them at night in a corner of the ash-warmed hearth.

Even Miss Holsworth, village spinster of austere, weathered visage and rigid views, responded. Gaining for herself an instant and thoughtful audience in the post office, when she saw the two lambs sucking blindly at their milk behind the counter, and exclaimed in a voice made loud with a lifetime's condemnation, and shrilled then with a high, unsteady eagerness, that she, too, had one in the oven.

We were pressed into foster service ourselves, by a friend with a goat herd. The nanny was a virgin, and the billy, a black noisome brute, as shaggy as a winter bison and nearly as big, his yellow eyes salted with lust, had gone at her without preliminaries. She'd high-stepped away from the encounter, wide-eyed and snorting, and five months later from the result of it �' two kids, Anglo-Nubians, with the long, pendulous ears of the breed sticking out like the functionally secured tresses of boisterous schoolgirls. Their eyes, with that look of having been born with a secret which continues to amuse, holding our faces steadily at feeding time, growing milk bright as the cholesterol ebbed in the bottle, the tips of their tongues under the teats like small wet slices of smoked salmon.

With the charm of all new-born animals, they tried their first feet, staggering and constantly threatening to topple, their long, smooth-jointed stilts of legs new and perplexing equipment to them as they gazed down from their unsteady height with an abstracted air, as if wondering where they'd put the instruction manual.

Meanwhile, the bleating of the lambs out on the fields grew lustier, short quivering bursts splitting the damp air as they followed, stiff-legged, the milk and warmth of their mothers, or romped on fine days under the trees, the bare black branches running like cracks against the skyline.

While in the pines along the valley road, a song thrush perched higher and higher among the green, trying to catch and to hold the sun. The reaching, darting notes threading the twilight, singing into the lengthening dusk of the days.

Peter Maughan

© 2013 Peter Maughan

Author's Note

Peter Maughan
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Added on February 1, 2013
Last Updated on February 1, 2013
Tags: village, valley, spring


Peter Maughan
Peter Maughan

Shrewsbury, The Welsh Marches, United Kingdom

I'm an ex-actor, fringe theatre director and script writer, married and living in the Welsh Marches, the borderland between England and Wales, and the backdrop to a series of books I'm writing, the Ba.. more..