Day 58

The cowslips have finally given up the ghost. Their yellow petals have faded, vibrancy lost, they wilt. Job done.

In the woodland at the foot of the heath, on the slope of the hill, bracken ferns are beginning to unfurl. Sprouting strong from below the past year’s brown litter, the firm green shoots, follow a curled fist of new leaf, punching upward. 

The broad leaves of foxgloves are also pushing through now among the thinly distributed blue bells. A foxglove’s leaf is soft and its tip curls ground-wards because the midrib is barely strong enough to hold the emerging weight. It will be a few days yet before the fox glove shoots emerge and flower from the centre of the plant.

On the last patch of rough ground before the shore, a grasshopper warbler sits on the apex of looped bramble. Its churring might pass for that of a cicada in Spain, or Greece. A small brown bird with little remarkable about it, except its calling. In the English countryside there is nothing quite like it. As with all small, brown birds it is far easier to hear them than to see them; so it is a treat to see this Little Brown Job (“LBJ”) on song and so easily identifiable.

Further along, sat on the crown of a small bush, is a linnet, with its double patch of pale red across its breast. It basks in the last of the sunshine, without making any noticeable noise.

I pace out the width of the beach, from the low water-line to the peak of the shingle. It is more than 75 paces. I notice a small starfish, its five legs closing up from dehydration, just over 30 paces from the low tide line. It will have been there since the tide began to retreat about seven hours ago, but has yet to be gathered up by a gull, or passing crow.

A crab shell, orange and brown on the outer surface is nearby. It is brilliant white within. I pick it up and although it measures the breadth of my right hand, it weighs just a few grammes. Dried out in the sun and air, the discarded shell is friable. I drop it and watch how easily shards break from the once hard carapace when it hits the stones.

From the arête of shingle bank, I look inland and my eye is caught by the white shadow of a barn owl swinging back and forward over the pasture. When a barn owl turns, it can seem to do so within its own length. It pivots on the broad inner wing of the arc and loops itself quickly into a new direction.

I watch this ghostly hunter sink toward the grass, then rise again, before it suddenly drops deep into the field. It is out of view for a few moments before it reappears. Like the kestrel, the other day near Wiverton, the sign of a successful catch, is the flat, fast, straight flight across the chase to a more sheltered spot, to somewhere captured prey can be dealt with uninterrupted.

By the main road a broad drain runs beside a lay-by which is the preferred sales pitch of an ice-cream van in summer. On the still water a family of seven mute swans trail along, disturbed by human presence. The father makes a threatening sally towards the roadside where I am walking, the mother leads away the train of ugly ducklings, (who are really very cute, grey, fluffy bundles) along the far side of the water. One of the five cygnets is distracted by some random speck floating nearby, before it realises it has to hurry up to rejoin the end of the flotilla speeding behind the imperious mother.

Where the water broadens into a duck pond, a couple of mallards are beak-down, tail-up. exploring the murky water, creating distinct circles of ripples by their dabbling. 

The sunset is spectacular. The flat sea mirrors the deepening blue of the sky. The north-west horizon is marked by a strip of deep orange, under-scored by the dark strip of a fog bank. Due north the clarity of the air gives perfect sight of the 88 wind turbines churning elegantly in the breeze.

Along the beach fishermen have made camp. Their long lines, already cast, loop languidly out into the water.

When this particular set of evening colours is displayed there is the promise of a cold night, but the night sky will be spectacular, with the third-quarter moon and the stars for decoration.

Christopher Perry

14th May, 2020

Day 48

There are days when all details of its passing are over-shadowed by a few brilliant seconds, when there is no need to address the minutiae of the other hours.

This morning from the west, following the channel of the drain by the coast road, I spot this year’s first flight of swifts, rising and falling in the face of the north-easterly wind. They are making headway toward the small town of Sheringham, set above the clay cliffs. There are too many of these fine winged birds to count in this group. Their collective flight is reminiscent of watching a loose shoal of fish. “The swifts!” I call to my sister cycling behind, “The swifts!”

I cycle on alone through the village towards the hill, but just before passing the pub, “The Three Swallows” I catch sight of a bulky white bird flying a circle around a small paddock. At first I think that it is a little egret. I had seen one struggling with the windy conditions over the marsh only a few minutes earlier. However, as this bird turned, not twenty feet from me, I recognised the round face and stubby frame of a barn owl. This was just after nine o’clock in a period of full sun.

I have not seen one of these birds since I arrived here. I have watched out for them in vain on my evening walks, so this is a delightful surprise this morning.

I have to use the word luminous to describe the white of the feathers. The barn owl continued its slow patrol of the paddock, before easing its way to the grass for a fraction of a minute and then gently lifting itself on its broad scooping wings to a wooden fence rail behind a willow. I could see the ghostly image resting there, even through the fresh green of willow leaves. I reached for my mobile phone, but the battery faded as I switched to the camera. I stood and watched intently, committing the image to memory.

Happy to move on again, the owl resumed its morning flight. It took a half-turn around the back of the field and departed over the five-bar gate and away behind a tangle of old blackberry brambles, keeping low to the hedge-line for cover.

Later, at the top of the hill, I heard a tawny owl’s hoots. This is a time for hunting. Young owls need feeding, whatever the time of day, or night.

I recharge my phone and find a message from my friend who I used to stand with at the football. He admits that he is using these days in aspic to improve his cooking.

.

Christopher Perry

4th May 2020

Origami

The white sheet fluttered down at the very edge of my vision

I saw it fold neatly in the cross wind and drop into the long, frosted grass of the field bank

In that moment, caught in my passing headlight

To all intents and purposes

It had the appearance of a barn owl

Falling on its prey

.

CLP 12/02/2020