The Romans were here, we have an Anglo-Saxon English village name, a Norman Church and we are still a thriving community. What would Gilbert White have written about us, I wonder.
Amidst the fallen leaves the familiar, reassuring sound of the church clock ringing out another hour carries through the still November village air as it has done for centuries. It has seen generations come and go and countless seasons change. I’m so glad to live here in this village centred around its old 12th century – but still very active – parish church. We live within sound of its clock reminding us that this is our village. We belong here. While the modern world rushes past in its noisy, restless, rootless haste the church clock calls us to pause and value the present quiet moment. Most people seem to have more time for each other and there is a surviving sense of community here. The same could be said for many an English village and long may such oases be preserved.
“…nothing is so delightful as to sit down in a country village in one of Miss Austen’s delicious novels, quite sure before we leave it to become intimate with every spot and every person it contains; or to ramble with Mr. (Gilbert) White over his own parish of Selborne, and form a friendship with the fields and coppices, as well as with the birds, mice, and squirrels, who inhabit them.”
From ‘Our Village’ by Mary Mitford in the 1820’s
As I sit here my attention is attracted by the chattering of our local jackdaws. They are making the most of the late afternoon sun as it catches the top of the trees opposite. The resident crow, hearing the chattering jackdaws, reasserts his top spot authority with some fruity and clearly annoyed croaks. But he knows that he will have to live with these noisy and ever fidgety neighbours. Earlier in the day these same trees have been hosting a large charm of goldfinches, also chattering to each other like the ‘daws’. A one- off visit of the sparrow hawk recently was not entirely welcome. Our resident birds have not had a good time this summer, so they do not need any further problems. I’m glad to have the lone crow, the sociable jackdaws, even the swaggering magpies joined by the herring gulls, noisy companions as they all are. We and all the local wildlife belong here. This is ‘our’ village.
The church clock sounds again. The traffic quietens, the temperature falls and the light fades. The secretive night shift will soon be here – including tawny owls from the churchyard yews, and foxes. Barn owls are still hanging on elsewhere as my daughter’s family discovered on a summer ‘Bat Night’ at the Sussex Wildlife Trust’s ’Woods Mill’ Reserve.
Seeing the increasingly rare sight of a barn owl hunting across the field in the dusk our grandson Josh commented:
“I saw it hunting a rodent and hovering ready to strike. It was a silent hunter and looked very graceful. The bats were beautiful, soaring against the black sky…I felt amazed as I had never seen a bat before or heard one and I have always wanted to do so. It was a very special moment when the first bat appeared. Using the bat detectors we saw a rare type of bat called a Bechstein’s and two types of Pipistrelle, the Soprano and the Common. Finally I saw a Daubenton’s bat swooping along the lake trying to catch flies.”
Will these barn owls and bats be here next year? Both are our close neighbours, silent, mysterious, elusive. But we have been difficult neighbours to them by destroying their habitats.
The old poets spoke of melancholy and sadness at this late season. November means fallen leaves, cooler days, darker evenings, and Remembrance Sunday. Then local people assemble at the church and afterwards at the war memorial on the village green–on the right of this photo. This is a sad reminder of lives lost in war, troubles and sorrows still faced by many in different parts of the world. Yet a lingering sense of belonging remains —this is our village and our country as well as our world.
Gilbert White spent most of his life in his home village of Selborne writing about the plants, animals and people in his ‘Natural History of Selborne‘, We are all grateful for the benefit of that. Someone has said that ‘Selborne is the secret, private parish inside each one of us.’ I wonder what secrets there are in this village yet to be discovered. We are an eco-system of characters, creatures and plants living in community. Long live our English villages!