Dear Readers, this week I was in the village of MIlborne St Andrew in Dorset with my parents. Those of you who are regular readers will know that Mum has had some enormous health challenges in the past few months. Dad was also briefly hospitalized last week with a suspected stroke. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to have had any major effects (in fact there was no evidence on the brain scan that a stroke has actually happened), but Dad is having trouble using his left arm and hand, resulting in a lot of frustration at mealtimes, and the occasional rude word. However, both of them are in good spirits and so I decided to take myself off for a walk, to see if I could find anything interesting to share with you all.
Maybe it was my mood, but finding something ‘interesting’ didn’t come easily. The wind rippled through the fields of barley and wheat, making waves as on a green sea, but all I could see was the monoculture, the lack of any other plant interlopers apart from the occasional bluebell growing on the edge of the crops.
There are signs telling me to ‘keep out’ and announcing ‘no admittance’ and chastising me for not cleaning up my dog poo, which seems a bit unkind as I don’t even have a dog.
I walk a bare path up between two fields and the only bird I see is a stray crow. Then I walk the same path back and don’t see anything at all.
I think that how we see the world depends on how we feel. I had done this self-same walk last month, and found it delightful. I suspect that the quality of my attention wasn’t what it might be. But then, as I decided to turn back, I looked up and saw a kestrel hunting, holding its own against the wind. I watched as it let the wind carry it and then hovered, all attention focused on a tiny square of green. It dropped to have a closer look, then rose again, poised on a pinnacle of air. I was so stunned that I didn’t even raise my camera. And then the bird swooped away, and disappeared behind the trees.
I walked on. I spotted a yellowhammer in the tree, not far from where I saw one on my previous walk. Blackbirds and blue tits flew past with worms and caterpillars in their beaks.
I reached a tiny area of woodland that I’d trudged past on my outward journey without noticing anything at all. But in fact, just below the level of the road there was a miniscule bluebell wood, hemmed in by fields on one side and a hedge and path on the other. From the deep blue colour and the scent I’d say that these were native bluebells, and they were mixed with windflowers and lesser celandine and primroses. Was this tiny spot a remnant of a much larger wood that had somehow, mysteriously, been preserved? I tried to work out how to photograph it but it was too well protected, too difficult to get to, what with the hedge and the ditch and the barbed wire fence and all. And yet, maybe this very inconvenience is what has kept it so diverse and so pristine for all these years.
As I passed the wood and hit the top of the hill, I saw three roe deer feeding in a field that was probably a mile away. One had antlers just growing. Roe are my favourite deer – I love the way that they just disappear into the undergrowth, jumping over bushes by seemingly retracting their legs into their bellies with no effort at all. Even at this distance they seemed to notice me, looking up and sniffing the air. A prey animal must be constantly on the look out, and it is not as if humans are safe to be around. I both understand and hate the way that creatures flee from us – it reminds me of J.A.Baker’s masterwork ‘The Peregrine’, in which he speaks of how humans ‘stink of death’. When I do meet animals who are not afraid of me, all that I can think of is how vulnerable they would be to other humans who might not have such benign intentions.
As I head back I notice that one of the houses has symbols of my favourite saint, St Francis of Assisi, and of what I’m fast beginning to think of as my totem animal.
By now, the village is coming into sight. I notice that the house martins are back, flying in giddying circles above the cottages, and a single swallow flies over the wall and on into the garage of the buildings opposite. I wonder how it would be to have a martin’s or a swallow’s nest under my eaves, and imagine how happy I would be to see the owners returning after their long flight north, and how heart-broken I would be if they didn’t come back. And I puzzle a little over how some people will destroy the nests because of the inconvenient noise and mess. For me, the thought of the confused birds turning anxious circles around the spot where they thought they’d built their nest, the knowledge that there may be eggs to be laid and nowhere to lay them sparks a feeling in my heart that is little short of anguish.
As I ponder these thoughts, a starling with a beak full of worms flies up on top of the burglar alarm outside one of the other houses. As I watch, she jumps up into the eaves and I hear the wheezing cries of her nestlings. She leaves the nest at such speed that I’m sure she’s aware of being watched, and doesn’t want to draw attention to the nest site. I notice that the house has been sold, and so there probably won’t be anyone around, at least for a few weeks. When they do move in, I hope that they are as delighted as I would be to have a nest site for this increasingly rare bird, and that they aren’t too worried about the state of their brickwork.
What strikes me most as I head back to make yet more pancakes for the parents, is how this really was a walk of two parts. Maybe it takes a little while for me to get into my stride, to slow my thoughts down enough to notice what’s going on outside. Or maybe, like the wind that’s still rustling the beech hedge, my mind is full of breezes and zephyrs and moments of stillness, ever changing. Like the kestrel, I have to learn to ride my moods, whatever they might be.
I do so agree with you about swallows and house martins and their nests. I cannot comprehend how anyone can think that tidiness is more important.
I know, Helena. It’s as if we’ve forgotten that we’re meant to be sharing the planet, not getting rid of every creature that is even remotely ‘inconvenient’.
Hi Vivienne, I really agree with your comments on house martins. About 30 years ago when I walked to the station there used to be house martin’s nests on many of the buildings I passed. Today there are none, and whilst I see some of these birds in flight, I have not seen a nest for a couple of years. Very sad.
I know, it’s so sad. If I had my way, all new buildings would be built with room in the eaves for our summer visitors…
The magic sparks of life (usually linked to some aspect of nature) usually appear at unexpected, grey moments. As is said, you need the black, blank night skies to bring out the brightness of the stars above and around you , and the dull, muddy puddles below your feet to reflect them!
I saw ‘my’ musk rat again, along the canal, and was able to get up within a metre’s distance (I was rowing at the time). He was busy eating a big apple, held up in his paws in the way raccoons and otters grip things. He did get fed up of my presence after a while, and ditched the apple and swam off, but not before I was able to come to the conclusion that he might well NOT be a musk rat after all, but rather a coypu (radongin in French). The big overall body size, huge white whiskers and yellowish teeth are signs. Not only that, but ‘he’ might well be a ‘she’ , as two days later, I saw a baby, accompanied by another adult. I was so excited I nearly capsized the boat and then felt a wave of fear that these creatures will be noticed by others and will inevitably become the target of some ‘stinking human’s’ hunting mission. The French do have a very real tendency to kill off anything animal that moves, or might do so in the wild and to manicure, preen and poison any greenery to death in their own green spaces.
Anyway, I’ll keep my fingers crossed and just enjoy these creatures while I can, but will keep my distance so that they can get on with their business.
How wonderful, Beach-Combing Magpie! I used to see Coypu a lot when I was a child and we holidayed down in Kent – they were kept for their fur (known as Nutria) and a group of them liberated themselves and went on to set up home all over the south-east, especially in the fen country of East Anglia. Sadly, they were eradicated as an alien species within about ten years of their original escape. I always remember the way that they held roots in their front paws and nibbled away.
Opps, ragondin, not radongin… Not that it’s very important, but still!
Another excellent post – loved the wildflowers….
My heart always seems to be breaking these days whenever I witness the destruction of another being’s habitat. Kindness to others has turned to “me first” especially when inconvenience plays a part.
I know what you mean, Marla. But my faith in human nature has been somewhat restored by my little social club at the cemetery, where folk are travelling, sometimes for miles, to look after the cats and foxes and other creatures that frequent the cemetery. It’s natural to despair sometimes, I think, but there is much good stuff going on as well!
Glad to know that your mum is doing well and I hope your father’s condition improves.
We just moved house from Tennessee to Kansas, leaving a nest of birds under the eaves of our old house. We hope the new residents of the house will allow the fledglings to mature and fly away in their own time. Fortunately the killdeer in the driveway had already hatched and run away before people began to view the house to purchase it.
We are originally both from Kansas, but have been away for about 30 years, half that time in Denver, Colorado, and half in a small town in rural Tennessee. I’m taking a little time off from unpacking cartons and rediscovering items we haven’t seen in years since we had a smaller house in Tennessee than we had had in Colorado. It’s almost like Christmas (or Boxing Day)!
I so enjoy your posts. Thank you for sharing a part of your life with all of us.
Hi Teresa, I hope that the new owners of your house will consider themselves blessed to have a nest under their eaves – in many cultures, it’s a sign of good luck.And good luck with the unpacking, and with your return to your ‘roots’ – I expect that some things will have changed in the past thirty years, but there will be many that will amaze you with their continuity!
Thanks for a lovely post! You are right about”seeing” you do have to be in the right frame of mind! Lovely deer and so good to see the swallows back also saw the swifts here in Worcestershire last week and all weekend have heard a cuckoo but not seen him yet!