At the junction of the main road leading to the town where I lived for a year, was a flourishing marsh.
A broad flood plain, knee deep in lush grasses, lichen and willow rushes, it was a sanctuary for wildlife. Here and there, emerging from the spongy green tangle, was a scattered rash of whitewashed cottages inhabited by folk from a bygone age and at the centre, on a hard ridge, was a tumbledown farmhouse where I lived with five girls. We were all students at the art school.
We lived on cloud number nine.
Most evenings, in the summer, we sat in the garden drinking wine, sketching foxes. In the autumn whilst having dinner at the kitchen table, we watched, through the huge mullioned windows, herons and egrets feeding amongst the reeds. Herons were the natural stars of the show, swooping to earth out of golden skies, gliding unsteadily then crash landing as if controlled by a drunken puppet master. For all their ungainly appearance, there was a certain spiritual grace about our herons that enriched the passions fermenting in our youthful minds.
Years later, I escaped the city, exchanging the exhausting merry-go-round of work, ducking and diving, for the peace and tranquility of a countryside I could barely remember. On a whim I returned to that old town and found someone had built office blocks, hotels and a petrol station where the marsh had once been. They had built a fitness centre with treadmills and running machines because there was no more country to run in. There was a supermarket with a fish counter because the river was hidden behind a wall and couldn’t be fished. Our tumbledown farmhouse now offered a “fine dining experience in the heart of rural England”.
The main road had become a motorway and at its end was a roundabout and at the centre was a slender pole and at the very top of the pole was a brass sculpture of a heron. The real herons of course had long gone.