It was the kind of October afternoon only East Anglia can produce. A drowsy sun in a cloudless sky, the air still.

The smoke from the wood fire eased lazily into the sky accompanied by the intermittent birdsong from the soaring larks and the crackle of the hedge trimmings. The green bank of an ancient baulk shared its scents, unique to autumn: crushed grass, fruiting trees, the sharp tang of broken fungi.

I could take you there with my eyes closed, my steps sure on the cobbled dirt and the autumn stubble.  I could point you to the wild fruit trees that give up their autumn bounty to the forager. I would show you the places where the blackbirds nested, their moss lined homes in plain sight amongst the thorns and the sloes. I might show you where the fox ran, the rabbit scuttled and the stoat prowled.

But I’ve not been back although in memory and dream I have returned time and again. I’ve stood there with the rising downs at my back and looked out to the flat ground of the valley: I’ve considered the past and looked forwards into the future.  

SundialThe tools I hung up that Friday evening were still there when the farm was sold. They had not been used and had only gathered dust in the intervening 30 years: it was long ago and far away.

It may not have been 1743 as the sundial suggests but the words Umbra Sumus (“we are but shadows”), point to the transitory nature of our lives as the passing of time.

Short though our time may be in terms of the age of the universe but how we will use what is given to us? Will we move away from history and pick up new tools, to be found working in new fields? Will we allow the past to be a reminder to guide and not a straitjacket to control?

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