A Watch in the Marches

“Oh, the wild hills of Wales, the land of old renown, and of wonder . . . ”

        —George Borrow, Wild Wales

I step silent across the flagged floor below weathered slates and beams, sleep-held family breathing behind, the only other sounds the scratching of terriers’ claws as they push past into rain-remembering grass—and somewhere among the waiting trees a blackbird hailing a new day of toil and danger.  Then I am tramping through silver, shocking grass, soaking instantly even through army boots, leaving a dark line leading to the dingle that dashes a stream down the slope in an understory of moss-stockinged trunks, fragrant ferns, and Ordovician erratics.

Aided by an ashplant, I compel my not-yet-limbered legs upward in the predawn, cold hamstrings stretching and breath catching, as I see how the sun is fingering through the canopy and picking out subshades in “grey” lichen, dew-spangles on sphagnum, ichor-hued rowan berries, and a gnat squadron sparked into electric activity by warmth after the dampness of the darkness.  A gate clicks open and closes, then another—old and oxidized, but nowhere near as old as the stone wall that writhes like one of the apocryphal black adders of this area around the head of the tiny valley, differentiating this particular part of Radnorshire from another...

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