The light is doing strange things today. There are no clouds, just a haze that hangs in the sky like a gauzy curtain.
When the weather is cool or unpredictable I walk. Up to the farm or through the forest, sometimes to where people with guns come to shoot birds and deer for sport. But today I have returned to my nest in the long grass on the side of the hill. From the main path at the bottom you can just see where my feet have made a faint beaten track that snakes up the slope through the long stalks and flowers. Turn and follow it. Walk slowly and touch the spiked, purple heads of the thistles as you pass, stroke the sprays of tall white daisies that sway and leave trails of yellow pollen against your thighs. Run your fingers through the graceful nodding tails of the grasses, let their silk play between your fingers.
Pretty soon you will come to a small open patch where the plants have been trodden down to form a hollow. This is my nest. I can be away for over a week and return and there is the impression of my body still in the grass, an oblong that fits me perfectly. No one can see you from the path, only the bees and the crickets will know you are here.
In a few months I will be gone from this place for good and my nest will disappear. The grass will spring back and other plants will lean in and grow tall. It won’t take long for there to be no sign that I was ever here. But now you have found me here, lying sprawled on my back watching the sky, legs crossed at the ankles, my arms flung out at my sides, a grass stalk in my mouth, thinking certain thoughts, not thinking certain others.
One brave cricket has decided to hang around a little longer today. He has sprung from the grassy wall of my hide and landed - ping! - on one of my bare knees. He tickles but I keep still. I say hello. He doesn’t. Instead he rubs his tiny hands together then strokes his antennae, one then the other, over and over. He steadies himself and starts a rasping, circular song, serenading me with his tiny, broken violin. A thousand others, hidden in the grass, begin too and suddenly I am surrounded by wave upon wave of cricket calls, insistent and constant and pulsing deep within me.
I whisper things to the creature as he plays. I talk to him and tell him secrets. Insects are good at keeping secrets, mainly because they are bad listeners and never remember what you’ve told them. But I whisper to him anyway and he plays his broken violin and the sun comes out and warms my legs.
A bi-plane drones overhead. I shield my eyes with my hand and watch its progress, which is so slow that I don’t know how it stays in the air (I can explain the principles of aeronautics and aerodynamics in minute detail, with explanatory diagrams and sounds (the sound effects are vital) as a result of my fight against my severe fear of flying. It hasn’t helped the terror, but the wingtip vortex noise I can make is pretty great.) The old machine potters around in the sky like a happy, fat dragonfly and then starts to climb. It rises through air that seems thick as honey until it is upside down, then loops backwards and over and comes horizontal again. I half expect it to shake itself like a wet dog after its exertions, and it meanders on until it is out of sight.
I look down and the cricket is gone. No warning, no slight shift in weight, no soft spreading of wings in preparation. One moment he is there, rubbing his hind legs together and watching the world through his bulbous eyes, the next he is not.
I smile and stroke the skin on my knee where he sat. It is marked still by old faint scars from childhood falls and warm from the new sunshine. A line from a Philip Larkin poem comes into my mind. It’s just a scrap, a final sentence, and I don’t know why these words are suddenly in my head, words that the poet so desperately wanted to believe were irrefutable, rather than the “almost-instinct almost true" of the penultimate line. These words, this simple thing, this poem’s end:
“What will survive of us is love.”
I look up and across the valley to where clouds are massing on the horizon, an army of them all seated on their heavy, snorting warhorses, preparing for battle, readying for the charge. They will be here soon dragging the wind behind them, battering this grass with their cloaks of rain, galloping in chaos about the dark skies and rattling their shards of lightning against the trees.
But right now I am here, safe and warm, lying heavy and soft against this earth that I love so much, watching planes play in the sky, listening to an insect orchestra, thinking about Larkin’s medieval knight and his lady frozen in stone and in love, the grass stroking my cheek, the flowers nodding sleepily against my hair and this is happiness, these simple moments, these tiny details, this is all it takes, truly, and I believe Larkin’s words. I believe them whether the old bugger meant them or not.