Last winter, I was out on my bike when I stopped by the side of a field not far from my home and created my first seasonal, sensory diary entry. I recorded everything I could see, smell and hear into my phone and then posted it to Instagram later.
I realised it was a really good way to pause for a moment and notice how the world around us changes so I came back three more times across the year and looked at how the landscape shifted with the seasons. Here are all the entries, posted together for the first time.
I stopped for a moment in the pouring rain and at first all I could feel and hear were many different types of water: stinging my face, splashing in a puddle, pelting down from the chestnut trees onto the road, dripping onto the grass and rattling against my jacket.
I could see it coming in diagonal waves across the fields, in front of the wood. The wind was gusty and loud in the trees but I could also hear a lot of birdsong, including a woodpecker in the distance. A few plucky pigeons flew across the field, making for the shelter of the forest. Rust coloured bracken lined the bright green verges but there was still a lot of winter brown, with ploughed fields and dead vegetation against a grey, muted sky.
The wind picked up and the trees creaked and swayed as it rushed through them. There was a wet, green smell of chlorophyll mixed with earthy mud and rotting leaves. A few early blooms of blossom in the hedgerow desperately tried cling on and not get rained away. I would never normally stop in such horrible weather but it was very peaceful, calm couple of minutes.
This is the same spot that I did a memory sensory diary a few weeks ago. On that day it was pouring with rain and grey but today the sun was shining and the sky was blue, although it was very windy. The trees were really swaying and there was a roar of wind that sounded like the sea. The crops appeared to be blowing in waves across the fields. There was a big field of oil seed rape and the bright lemon-coloured flowers were being buffeted about wildly. Blossom was in the trees, the catkins were out and the verges were a shimmering green, punctuated with bright yellow dandelions. I stood under an old chestnut tree whose leaves hadn’t quite come out yet but there were buds on its lower branches, poised and ready to go. From all around came a loud chirping of birds and I even heard a pheasant which is unusual round here. In the nearby woodland, a patch had been cleared, leaving one lone tree in the centre, looking naked and vulnerable with its tall, thin trunk and branches stretching up to the sky. The trees were layers of colour – dark green trunks covered in ivy, with lighter green branches towards the top where the leaves are just coming through and crowned at the uppermost by veiny, skeleton-fingered branches. An orchestra of wind whistled round my ear, rustled the grass, make the old trees creak and groan and made a deep, threatening whoosh through the wood. A large, fat bumble bee busily searched for pollen, keeping low to the ground and trying to avoid being blown off course. It was cold in the shade of the tree but the sun soon warmed me as I carried on my way.
It’s quite different from the last time I stopped here. The view to wood across to my left is now obscured by a field of maize that’s taller than me but I can see and hear a buzzard flying in circles above the tree tops, hunting for its next meal. The hedgerows and verges are overgrown with grasses, many of which have gone to seed and are golden and straw-like. There are layers of green and different textures of vegetation. Across the road is a field that’s been left alone and it’s full of wild flowers and grasses, hemlock, red clover and spotted cat’s ear. It’s really pretty, with dainty white flowers and seed heads nodding in the quiet wind. There’s a thin stretch of yellow flowers along the line of the wood which look like someone has come along with a paintbrush and painted a sweep of colour against the green backdrop. The breeze whispers gently through the trees – I think the last time I came I described it as an orchestra of wind but it definitely isn’t that today. Above me, in the ancient chestnut tree, chestnuts are hanging in their spiky, shiny seed pods. Soon they’ll start falling onto the road to be eaten by animals and driven over by tractors and cars. This tree is hundreds of years old, overgrown with ivy at the bottom and I think of all the people that have passed under it in the past and of all the people that will pass under it in the future. I think about the coming months and what this place might look like the next time I come here to do this. I feel comforted that, all being well, this tree will still be here, no matter what the future holds.
I’m back at my tree and it’s early November. It’s a beautiful autumn day, the sky is blue with aeroplane trails and a few wispy white clouds. A second ago, a kestrel was hovering above the field and now it’s darting upwards and around, above my head. There’s a gusty breeze which comes and goes in waves: at the moment it’s still but I’m sure it will pick up again soon. Everywhere is bathed in a golden halo of light and colour. Across in the wood I can hear the trees whispering to each other and the sound reminds me of water, as if trees and rivers communicate in the same language. An unidentified bird makes a croaking sound and overhead a little flock of goldfinches fly over. The chestnut tree above me is slowly beginning to shed its leaves, which are turning from golden to brown, although there are still some green ones too, holding out as long as they can. While I’ve been standing here quite a few have blown off and landed on the ground beneath my feet. All around me are hundreds, if not thousands, of once-spiky chestnut shells that have been rendered indefensible, having been driven over by cars or tractors coming down the lane. Opposite me is an oak tree which is slowly changing too, mirroring the chestnut. The ferns in the hedges have turned to rust and everything is getting its winter hue; different greens, faded oranges, sun-bleached straw and gold.
Already some of the branches in the trees and hedges are showing their spiky, winter silhouette. Across the road, the wild flower meadow which was so resplendent in the summer is a brown skeleton, filled with seed heads and dock. Slowly the trunks of the trees in the wood are beginning to emerge, like naked soldiers advancing forward. When I come back in a few weeks and do another winter diary, I’ll be able to see them all. The air smells fresh and clean and feels invigorating. I can hear a jay in the wood. A flock of pigeons fly over, in two groups, beating across the air. There are a couple of hundred and I can hear the sound of their wings flapping as they head north above me. A few stragglers bring up the rear. There’s something gentle about the outline of trees against the skyline at this time of year – they’re not stark like they are in winter and they’re not lush like they are in summer, they’re just a hazy, blurred edge. When I was here last, the field behind me was full of maize which towered above my head but that’s been harvested and all that’s left is a field of stubble. The field next to it has been replanted and already I can see tiny shoots of green emerging again. In the distance I can see a murmuration of starlings, flying in formation, pulsating like a heartbeat in the sky. The wind gets up and blows the leaves along the road. It’s very peaceful and calm and I feel like I’m witnessing a view that hasn’t really changed in a hundred years. When I came here last winter, there was what I called an orchestra of wind, in the summer it was very hot and in the spring everything was bursting into life but now it just feels like nature is slowing down to rest, getting ready for some recuperation and healing. It feels beautifully reassuring.