As spring comes to the fore, and the bluebells show their colours in the south facing hedgerows - racing against the unfurling of the fresh green leaves that will eclipse them in the coming weeks - quiet places are now filled with birdsong, sending coded messages over our heads, in more than one sense. The glow of the more intense light picks out the glinting of mica in the granite blocks that built an old farm, long ago, and I find myself pausing to wonder at the strength and ancient machinery and methods that must have been employed to roll these huge blocks in to the semblance of a dwelling. Before - long before - they were incorporated here, they must have rolled some distance from the nearby granite promontory of Carn Brea, and lain in fields of grazing livestock, or have been used to improvise a rough wall.
I pass this old farmhouse - present on even the oldest maps, and giving its name to the surrounding estate - when I walk to meet my son from school. Whenever I have a few extra minutes in the schedule, I enjoy this little detour. I enjoy seeing it in the sun, when the stone glints with silver and orange-red staining of iron; and it looks wonderful in the rain, when the shade of the walls have more contrast, and the largest blocks seem to grow in size and dominance, and the grass that runs up to the back of it shines brilliant green.
The large bulk of the farmhouse is now converted in to multiple dwellings, and the area at the front has been adapted to accommodate cars. Gravel now lies where I imagine a vegetable garden used to be, and the incursion of these little granitic morsels is out of kilter with the much grander blocks that make up the house. New houses have grown up all around, separated from the farmhouse by a block-paved road, and I often muse that the people living in the new houses have a much nicer view (of the farmhouse) than the inhabitants of the beautiful old farm!
Is it whimsical and unhelpful to daydream of how this area used to look? Is it churlish to resent the presence of houses that are doubtless cherished and hospitable homes to numerous families? I hope not, for I can't help but indulge in some time-travel whenever I pass this way. Though the need for houses is obviously greater now, with a much larger population than this area had three hundred years ago, I can't help but see these changes as ex-changes: we are increasing the habitations for humans at the expense of the space left for wildlife, and consequently decreasing our own opportunities to interact with the natural world. The small mammals -hedgehogs, foxes, badgers and stoats - that would have been frequent cohabitants of this area even one hundred years ago, now seem exotic to us: exotic, defined as 'coming from somewhere else'. And those areas of 'else' are shrinking, and becoming less connected, further damaging the potential for populations of these native mammals to persist.
Making the environment where we live increasingly human-centric may seem, superficially, sensible; after all, Homo Sapien is the top-predator, and there are lots of us. But the decrease in diversity is a loss to us, as much as it is to the communities of nature that we displace; we deprive ourselves of a sense of place in a web of life, and as hedgerows disappear and are replaced by walls, we erode our connection with the changing seasons and the thrill of sudden, startled birdsong as we pass by.