The sun is on station as I begin my walk but coming back I look up to find the sky quilted by cloud, with no leading edge to reveal its direction. My mind is elsewhere, anticipating a return to yesterday’s unfinished business; but it would take an extreme level of distraction to miss the white trumpets of convolvulus in the hedge by Tall Tree Orchard. I once wrote a poem about this plant, but really about my father who saw through the Latin to the pest he insisted on calling bindweed. As a result it was one of the few wild flowers I could identify before writing about the lane. In the opposite verge I notice how the seed pods on garlic mustard have turned woody and purple, protruding like antlers from some country house wall. Then, on the other side again, a buzzard rises from the top of the hedge as hobbled by gravity as a cargo plane.
But for once the walk is little more than a displacement activity. Back home, with Hubbard as a guide, I knuckle down to my specimens of grass. The stalks, or culms, are hollow and separated into chambers by irregularly-spaced nodes which can be detected by caressing the stem. This is where leaves arise, cylindrical at first before flattening into blades. The culms terminate in flowers, the branched type of which, dominating my sample, is known as a panicle. Each individual head is a spikelet, the stalk on which it grows being known as a pedicel.
This is arcane knowledge by any standards – and I have left out some of the more recondite detail which can only be detected with the aid of magnification. Is it possible to name the species I have collected without knowing, for example, whether something has a glume and an awn; or am I guilty of cowardice under fire, unable to summon the mental effort this discipline requires? In search of a quick, morale-boosting win I look for the long, tail-like flower-head which is the most striking of my collection and come up with Timothy grass, an American import used widely for hay. I rest for now on these limited, tickly laurels.