Will-o’-the-Wisp.

19th December 2011:  Over the last two weeks, I have only had time to get onto the marsh during the evenings. Will-o’-the-Wisp has been my frequent and spooky companion on  bright moon lit evenings; I am well used to this phenomenon now. Frozen standing water in small puddles and long narrow ruts reflected the bright yellow and silver light of a brilliant full moon, giving an impression of flashlights being switched on and off. Shooting stars gave a mystical feeling to another crystal clear, cold, and foot crunching evening. The eyes of the marsh cattle shone like car headlights in my IR night scope viewer, and the small round eyes of a very young calf standing close to a leafless bush had me fooled for a while. A large, bright moon lit my way on some nights, whilst on others, when the moon failed to appear, the marsh was about as dark as I have ever experienced with my eyes open.

On another dark evening, I saw a half a dozen small round flickering lights grouped together in amongst the trees and a very bright floodlight hovering above them. Wondering if a major incident had occurred, I made my way in that general direction.  Having skirted around the trees, the lights came into clear view. The torches I saw were the Wilden Lane roadside lights, and the floodlight was mounted on a nearby hillside house. The reason these lights fooled me is that the leaves had fallen from the trees that had hidden them until this evening. The night-time darkness plays tricks on the mind.

I sat on a low tree branch alongside the North Pond, facing west. A dense mist had settled over the pond, the River Stour and the canal. I watched rooks roosting in a distant stand of trees. With my right eye pressed against my night-scope eyepiece, my left eye scanned for other likely targets. As I watched this night-time scene the darkness gave way to a dawn-like golden light that grew steadily stronger over, at a guess, a fifteen second period.  This reminded me of a movie in which a man was doing something similar when the ambient light increased around him causing him to, ever so slowly, turn his head. He saw a saucer-shaped UFO effortlessly descended behind him. I did similarly, but what I saw was brightly lit houses stretching along the side of a low hill. Some of the houses and the trees surrounding them were draped with coloured fairy lights. The light illuminating my foreground and this wonderful Christmas-time scape emanated from a big yellow moon as it rose from behind the hill alongside Wilden Lane. It was worthwhile being out on this cold dark night just to experience this scene alone. I took a photograph with my phone camera, but it does nothing to convey either the brilliance or the emotion of the scene I viewed that night. You would really have had to be there to experience the full dramatic effect.

The Lower Stour Valley funnels the coldest air from further up-country and when the conditions are cold and damp, a dense mist can form, covering everything it touches in a cotton wool-like shroud. This can happen quickly, or it can creep up on you like a silent attacker. Tonight was one of these occasions. I was standing on a track listening to two foxes calling from the North Wood, or at least somewhere near it.  The vixen was screaming  and a dog fox was answering. I will spend ages listening to foxes calling.

I often close my eyes to preserve the memory of these fox calls for as long as possible, which I did this evening. It is not difficult to lose all track of time in these circumstances, and tonight was no exception. When I eventually came to my senses, my boots were covered by swirling wisps of mist. The effect was similar to that you would expect to find around a block of dry ice. From the direction I had come, the air was fairly clear, but from the direction I was about to travel, the way was not so clear. In fact, a six feet high bank of mist was trundling along towards me. As it passed over bushes and tussocks, it rose to envelop them in, what seemed to me, a physical manifestation of ghostly ectoplasm, before tearing itself apart to drain to the ground between them in fast flowing streams.

The effect of seeing such a mass of cotton wool rolling towards me was quite intimidating. In the darkness, the rolling mist seemed to be of such a solid substance that it didn’t seem unreasonable to imagine it being capable of sweeping a person off their feet and carrying them away. I watched my legs being absorbed by the white substance. I felt the temperature falling dramatically around my lower limbs. Slowly, but surely, the mist rose. I was disappearing into the folds of something that would shortly rob me of my sight and there was nothing I could do about it. The trees, bushes and eventually a sky full of stars faded from view – I was temporarily blind. This must be what it’s like to have cataracts in both eyes.

It was indeed a strange experience to be plunged so quickly into a murky world that rendered my eyesight useless, but it could have been worse. I had lost the visual markers that I would normally use to navigate the night marsh, but I still had a detailed map in my head, and I knew what navigation markers I should look out for. As it turned out, finding my way home was not a hard task. Every now and then my head broke through the blanket of mist enabling me to see the lights of Kidderminster. The most difficult part of the exercise was not being able to see the dark ground shadows that I knew to be gaping rabbit holes that a medium-sized dog could easily slip down. However, I happened to have a collapsible walking pole with me for an occasion such as this.