Letter from Mike Excell, elder at Hertford URC

Most mornings, before breakfast, I take a 20 minute stroll which embraces part of what’s often referred to as ‘the Bengeo Field’. I’m not alone in discovering that steady walking, on a regular route, is a powerful and compatible accompaniment to daily prayer and meditation. My path often crosses that of other humans (plus accompanying  canines, nonplussed as they look for my non-existent dog); and one autumn morning in 2020 I encountered a local farmer who told me he was checking out the field before planting his barley. When harvested the crop would be sent to a maltings in Kent -  and ultimately find its way into something nice to drink. Beer and folk music are close companions; many traditional songs reflect rural life, the passage of the seasons and the life of the agricultural worker.  One such begins ‘come it’s now September’ and refers to ‘the ripe and bearded barley, smiling on the scythe’. This year the barley in ‘our’ field had had the smile wiped from its face - by combine harvester  - by late July. Similarly most of this year’s bumper crop of our garden blackberries had been eaten, frozen or given away by early August, leaving slim pickings for September. It’s easy to conclude that the seasons we have known seem to be shifting slightly.               

However, some things can’t change fundamentally, at least not within a time frame that the human brain can contemplate ; the geometry and physics which govern the earth’s relationship to the sun (one of creation’s miracles) and thereby the seasons, see to that. But there’s no doubt that on a more parochial level, the time-honoured reliability of  ‘Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter’ has been undermined by mankind’s failure to acknowledge the duty of care we have concerning the planet and its climate – all in the name of progress and often the desire to be somewhere else as quickly as possible. So hedgerows may disappear, and roads and buildings replace pastures where sheep once safely grazed. And the route of my early morning prayer walk might have needed some serious adjustment had plans to turn our field into a quarry the size of 50 football pitches come to pass.  But I’m lucky; we were able to mount a strong local knowledge-based campaign to resist the diggers, the fields and byways I walk survived.                                                       

There have been many changes of course, but these long-established paths have felt the tread of many generations, who I like to think saw and heard the ancestors of the skylarks that accompany my daily pilgrimage. So I walk, and at the same spot each day I pause, listen for the silence behind the sounds, lift my eyes to the horizon and thank God, the unchanging presence in all our lives.