The greylag goose and I peered at each other across the sodden field. At the best of times, a greylag goose has a look of indignant confusion about it, but this one looked full-on bewildered.
“What on earth,” it seemed to say, “are you doing, in this field, in this pouring rain, miles from anywhere, covered in mud?”
Well, oh goose, the answer was that I was finally proving I wasn’t too much of a wuss to run in the rain. This was proper, taps-turned-on, extravagant English rain, none of your light, austerity kind, on a freezing cold May morning with frosty breath and the heating on at home. After days and weeks of dodging the showers or cowering in the house for hours in my running gear, this was finally the time to prove I hadn’t totally gone soft.
It was the sort of day where you start off jumping the puddles before realising it’s futile, and you just go straight through them. It’s one of the many things children have got right: puddles are there to be celebrated, not avoided.
Some of the paths were so flooded that the water was ankle deep, with mud beneath. Across the meadow the skylarks were silent under the heavy low cloud. Across muddy fields I squelched and sploshed, over slippery stiles and past paddocks, coated horses grazing wearily in what they used to think of as early summer.
Once I swerved to avoid an overhanging hawthorn branch and slipped over on the muddy bank beside the path. Excellent. Now there was mud on pretty much all of me. Once you’re 100% wet and 100% muddy you can relax. There’s nothing else to lose. With the effort of staying clean and dry gone, you can just get on with getting down and getting dirty: liberating and highly recommended. And the feeling of cold floodwater on hot feet is pretty, well, cool.
Some time before I met the greylag, I encountered a lone dog-walker near an outpost of civilisation – a barn and several houses. He peered at me with the same look of goose-like bewilderment. “Why?” his eyes seemed to say. But his mouth said a very British “Good morning” and no explanations were called for. We both went on our way, heads down into the endless rain.
This wasn’t just a wet run, it was on a previously unexplored route. The highlights were not just mud, flood, slipping over, bemused dogwalker and bemused goose.
There was the joyful discovery of a stunning bluebell wood, stretching away in the dull light which seem to heighten its colours. Next to it was a field of sheep with a dozen lambs huddled against the scant shelter of the trees: not gambolling but cowering. As I squelched nearer, water squirting out of my muddy running shoes at every step, the sheep called the lambs back in stern low voices: “Ma-a-a-a-d. Ma-a-a-a-d.” The lambs scarpered and suckled while watching me with one eye. The mothers stared on. I don’t think this was bewilderment as much as contempt. “Ma-a-a-a-d,” one said again as I sploshed off into the distance.
I’ll forget that withering look from the sheep but try to remember the comedy goose. I have no idea what it was doing there either. It was a good half a mile from the millpond where other greylags hang out, along with great-crested grebes, swallows and the odd comic tern (common or arctic, who knows?). It was on the crest of a small grassy knoll (unarmed). The look that passed between us was hilarious and the memory will live on, long after the running shoes have dried out.