The evening is cool; the cloudless night letting the day’s heat seep into the atmosphere. I pull the woollen blanket tighter around my shoulders to keep in the warmth as I sit on the little wooden bench. Above my head, bears, lions, and a crustacean silently meander across the sky, bringing with them the familiar lights that have aided travellers for thousands of years. But no one is being guided, not for now. Tonight, they simply bring comfort to those like me.
The sky is bright, despite the moon waxing. Gemini has also made an appearance, and the irony of the constellation’s story of the strong desire for two people so desperate to be close to one another that they are immortalised in the night sky is not lost on me. Of course, if the Greek God’s were still believed to decide our future, it would be Oizys at play; the goddess of anxiety, grief, and misery. Times are hard for all of us right now, but there is one place you can always seek comfort, solace and calm: nature.
It is this need for consolation and a lack of sleep that have brought me out here again in the dead of night. There is a dampness to the air, a pleasant petrichor-like smell radiating off the garden. During the day, this space is abuzz with birds in the trees and insects flitting between the wildflowers, but for now it is still. I get up to wander around, taking in the differences the lack of light brings.
I can see the slight gleam of the honey-coloured flowers of the yellow archangel, already blooming. I bend down and delicately reach for one of them in the dark. Apparently, their Latin name, ‘Lamium galeobdolon’, translates as ‘smells like weasel’, a theory you can test by squeezing one of the butter-yellow flowers. I abstain. As I stand back up, I get a slight fragrant waft from the buds of the blackcurrant bushes branches above. Large bumblebees are repeatedly drawn to them in daylight, despite the fact they are not fully blossoming. Soon the bush will be full of gorging insects; first on the pollen, and then later, on the sweet, sticky fruit. I try and dodge the dandelions standing starkly out of the lawn. Many have already gone to seed; fluffy heads waiting in anticipation to be carried away by the wind, providing the goldfinches don’t get to them first.
As I wander, taking in the garden by night, I sense a sudden movement over my head, a fluttering of black contrasted against the indigo sky. I try to decipher the maker in the darkness. Bats. My spirits lift: they are back. I assume them to be pipistrelles, our most common bat species in the UK, likely here to feast upon the moths that are attracted by the wildflowers or the mosquitos that dominate the small pond.They will have only left hibernation a few weeks ago and will be needing to gain they have weight have lost, feeding on up to 3000 insects a night to build themselves up before they think about mating in the coming weeks. I love that they are here in my garden at their time of need, using my space as support, not realising what they are doing for me in return.
Outside of lockdown I would normally travel to a nearby field at sunset and park by the rough track, watching a large colony disappear and re-emerge through a tunnel of branches where the oaks meet in an archway over the road. Marvelling at their twilight acrobatics until the night seeps into the sky, fading it to an inky black. For now, these two will have to do.
They speed past me, just above my head, circle around the shed and head back again. They jerkily dance over the telegraph wires, where the first swallows of the year sat earlier chatting to each other as I watched and imagined them swapping stories of their recent 6000-mile long journey. The bats are a lot less communicative, their dialogue inaudible to me even in the silence.
I lose sight of them in the shadows as they head towards the old town gaol which looms not-unpleasantly over my neighbours’ garden. I wonder if this is where they hibernate over the winter, sneaking into the tiny crevices of the stone building, the same place I saw the sparrows slipping into earlier. The upper floor of the prison has now been converted for human habitation, but downstairs still stand the original 19th-century cells, wrought iron bars over the windows and large locks on the doors. In here, there would be plenty of places to tuck up into and avoid the cold, undisturbed for months.
I wait a while, scanning the sky, but they don’t return, and it is just me again, gazing up at Venus. It is easy to feel lonely during this strange and troublesome time, but it’s a comfort knowing nature is always here to provide support and a warm embrace, even on the chillier nights.