Mountain stream spouts clear
Granite trough holds liquid ice
Sunburnt arms submerged
Mountain stream spouts clear
Granite trough holds liquid ice
Sunburnt arms submerged
There are some very long-lived people resident in Norfolk; the cool climate is clearly a contributor. Like living in a massive fridge, the chill stops one from going off, perhaps. I struggle with the dichotomy of clear blue sky matched with being perpetually cold. It is also true of this neck of the woods that there are few residents, apart from at weekends and during the holiday seasons, so those who are permanent are clearly hardy, adaptable folk.
I heard a remark today that captures an essence of this period. “The days go by so fast, but each day is so slow.” Something very strange is happening to our experience of time.
Today is another Wednesday. It is the fiftieth day of writing about what I am witnessing here, but it still all seems new. Perhaps this practise of writing something about each day keeps it so for me. The gradual emergence of Spring comes later here in comparison to the southern coast. I have an opportunity to note the natural changes as they arise.
I sense the changing tilt of sunlight in these days between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. This time when days lengthen and shadows shorten has often been lost to me before. School and then study and then work have always been busy during this phase of the solar cycle, so I am blessed to be able to immerse myself in it this year.
It is less than six weeks to Midsummer’s day, (just 46 days) and from then the days will shorten, the shadows lengthen. Of course, the air will be warmer, the soil heated and the long tail of Summer leading into Autumn will pass through some blissful days, but it is this phase, when each day is brighter and longer than the last that is the time of renewal, growth and hope. I pray that I am able to appreciate each one, as and when each arrives.
In the sunlit evening, I put on a thick, windproof jacket, zip it to my chin and step out into the blustery air. I do not treat the walk as exercise, but as a stroll. I take my time to move within, rather than through the landscape. This allows me to see the muntjac deer before it hears me coming, to enjoy the leverets chasing each other, to watch the rabbits nibbling and to study the hedge birds hopping about from branch to nest and perch. In one instance, in the wood on the hill, two young rabbits come towards me. I halt my gentle pace and am able to watch them for a few undisturbed moments before they amble off under the brambles.
This Spring I have been able to see the difference between blackthorn and hawthorn by the time of their flowering. The blackthorn is turned to green leaves before the hawthorn’s May Flower sprouts. The blackthorn covers large areas of the escarpment below the heath and when in blossom presents a picture akin to a dusting of snow. The hawthorn trees are more dispersed and so there is no blanket coverage to wonder at, but the hawthorn explodes into flower when the right conditions arrive, which here, this year come at the very end of April and now, the first week of the May.
I eventually turn onto the coast road, edging the old salt marshes. It is mayhem out there. Various hatchlings are out and parent birds are fighting tooth and claw to protect the young from marauders. I have mentioned the birds of prey and the carrion before, but now gulls are more commonly seen too. The larger gulls are not averse to adding eggs, or young to their omnivorous diet. The peewit parents exhaust themselves in defensive duties. It is now that their speed and agility in flight becomes vital to the survival of their species.
Another more commonly seen bird, overlooked and unremarked on because of its modest size, is the pied wagtail. There are several active around the Green at the bottom of the Purdy Street. These birds with jerky, clockwork movements are happy catching small insects. Sometimes they flitter a few feet into the air, almost in a hover, to catch something, at other times they walk restlessly, pecking to left and right at the ground for easier pickings. When they stand still, tail wagging up and down, with short, sharp, black beak pointing slightly upward, they are preparing to fly.
They seem to need a moment to compose themselves before springing into the air and making their way on an undulating flight path. They land with a silent splash of black and white, often not far from the point of lift off, before resuming their mechanical-toy movements. The pied wagtail emits chirpy notes as it goes about its business. Just enough to attract attention, not enough to call a song, although they do have songs in the repertoire.
At last an evening with some play – dominoes. This is a game that allows some conversation and distraction. It is not overly competitive, because of the luck of the draw, but a game that allows gentle conversation, whichever variation is played. I teach my sister two new variations and remind her of a third. An enjoyable evening.
After your on-line choir we talk by telephone for well over an hour, in fact until well-past midnight. I fall asleep exhausted, you find sleep eventually.
5th May, 2020
Winds from the south-west are more amenable than most. They will make it easier for the swifts to get here. Swifts are the birds of summer for me. I look forward to their arrival in the next few days.
In the interim swallows and martins are becoming more common now. I watched two martins gathering mud from the creek this morning for nest building. As the tide runs out the River Glaven rapidly empties, exposing silty shoals for the house martins to collect mud for their inverted adobe nests under the eaves of the older houses of the village. Sadly, one still hears of some people in the village who knock down the mud nests with a broom in order to keep their house walls tidy.
A red kite circles the village. At one point it turns in a slow gliding movement with wings fully spread. It becomes backlit by the high sun thereby exposing the full beauty of its wing patterning. The bird becomes more than just a shadow in the sky. Each kite’s markings are unique within the natural range of the species and this moment of rare illumination gives a sense of this big raptor being an individual.
Yesterday afternoon I heard one cuckoo, but today, while sitting at the front porch, one calls from a tree just to my right and then another responds from down the lane, toward the church. After a couple of exchanges between these two, a third more distant cuckooing carries down the hill. Was there a fourth, fainter from further? This was the first time that I had heard more than a couple of these birds calling to each other. Their collective presence may not be good news for nest-builders locally, but as an addition to the orchestra of birdsongs here this spring, it is wonderful to hear them.
I stretch out on the wooden bench in the garden during the early afternoon to enjoy feeling the sun heat my bare chest. There is no reason to be anywhere else.
You are busy elsewhere. I am not. I look forward to speaking with you again when the time is right.
2nd May 2020
In a game of peek-a-boo, the Sun intermittently skips through the day behind cloud banks. By evening, the sky is clear and the garden is flooded with gold.
The recent rain has done its work and the grasses, trees, flowers, herbs have all drawn strength from the dampened soil. Their increase in turgor pressure irons out any thoughts of wilting. Leaf and flower buds are forced open.
I am endlessly fascinated by the spread of grasses, the variety of blades, the differences in growth patterns, the speed of growth. Then the mix of plants that coexist within the sward: daisies, buttercups, dandelions, clover, greater plantain and here clutches of cowslips that show no sign of being cowed by the growing competition.
The cowslips will outlast the bluebells, having already seen off the daffodils. They will still be lively when the grasses produce flowers.
At the start of this luminous evening a cuckoo calls out. Three distinct calls. Smooth, clear, soft, fluting hyphenated calls – as if delivered by a professional musician, without hurry. The pause between each call allows just enough time for a breath of breeze to carry the paired notes up over the village.
1st May, 2020
The hedgerows are changing. The blackthorn’s fine white petals have thinned out and the dark spikes are being shaded out by greenery, as the hawthorn, the May Tree is dressing up in its finery. Where the plant is a tree, it shines out from copses and hedgerows. In the shade of the hedge, it is emerging shyly.
It is emerging in specks in the company of medium-sized flowers, apple trees and stray dog roses. The pallet of flowers has extended from yellows and whites to include blues and some pale pinks.
Along the sides of roads there are surprising numbers of white and pink-flecked apple blossoms. These trees have been flailed into shape by the huge, tractor-borne trimming machines of the farmers. These pretty trees are forced to form part of the hedgerows that they were first cast into as apple cores. They endure their cramped conditions merrily, bringing further variety to the lanes in spring. They will add to the boon of berries, wild plums and haws that will ripen over late summer.
The rough flailing arms of the heavy-duty hedge-trimmers are no match for the occasional oak trees that stand by the roads. The northerly winds have made some impression on the general direction of their spread, which often turns slightly inland, but they remain otherwise solid. The sprouting leaves of oak trees about here are unfolding in limey and yellowy greens. They hint at the dull colours they will become after the next equinox. I do not recall them being this colour in spring until the last few years, at least not quite so yellow. They do not look right to me.
Not all the roadside oaks are turning to leaf. One or two are bleaching, becoming skeletons of their former selves. In one there are three swallows waiting, chirruping to the breeze.
Swallows do a surprising amount of sitting around in between their migratory passages. Telegraph wires are being laid underground as cables and wireless technology now fills the atmosphere with digits, forcing swallows to adapt their lifestyles. I see them on the tops of hedges, fences and now on the bony fingers of dying oaks. The golden age for swallows of telegraph wires, railway signal and bowed telephone lines hanging off poles along every avenue is past.
Swallows are not timid birds and it is possible to see them quite close up at now they are returning to lower level resting spots. They will not up and away in an instant if a gentle approach is made. They need their rest, so do not move unless the movement they see is too threatening.
Competition on remaining telephone lines is increased, gold finches are no problem, but crows, pigeons and starlings all seek space to sit. Pigeons pose remarkably firmly, despite their doughy shapes. Starlings are rarely still, twittering and squeaking as they gather, swapping places, shuffling along, squeezing up, changing ends, but generally all lined-up, like children approximately queuing on a school trip, excited to get into the zoo with their good-natured teacher. Goldfinches, always chirpy in song, are temporary at any perch before somewhere else looks as if it might be a better bet. They move from place to place; shoppers testing sofas in a department store.
It is a Saturday. There are many more people about. Cyclists are more prevalent. Motor vehicles are less utilitarian. It is not uncommon to be passed by a cabriolet with its roof down; a retired couple with sun-glasses and peaked hats on a leisure drive; side-by-side; unspeaking. Walkers choose the ancient tracks and byways, so only intersect with the roads when crossing, as they follow the airy directions of wooden finger posts.
I sustain my commitment to being switched off from phone, emails, internet for two days. It gives me gaps to fall into. Time to think. I think of you, trust that all is well. I allow myself to do absolutely nothing and remember what that feels like.
26th April, 2020 (written 28th April, 2020)
While still strong, the wind is not so cold today. It is another day that is cloudless.
The association of April with rain being delivered in re-freshing, short showers is far from the truth this year. The winds driving in from the east and the north are bitter and dry. Their strength and persistence challenges patience and good humour. They force us to seek sheltered spots when seeking some sunshine, to carefully consider the route for walks, or cycle rides. It is best to bear the brunt of the wind on the outward route and plan a way back following the lee of a hill, or through woodland.
With everyday similar to the last, identifying differences between days helps keep a grasp of time. The most obvious difference is the lengthening hours of sunlight.
Without cloud it is quite noticeable how long it takes for the last light of the day to finally fade. Only Venus is visible against the cool of the stretched evening sky before the other stars and a passing meteor shower can be seen. In the morning the first clacking, squawks of the loose game birds gets earlier and earlier, when they respond to an initial crow’s caw, coughed up from the rookery on the hill.
Shadows in the middle of day are shortening and the amount of sunshine reaching the woodland floor is gradually being reduced as the tree canopy spreads. But it is not so shaded under the oak trees as to explain why a tawny owl would be sending out a plaintive hooting at just after nine o’clock on such a luminous morning. I heard a single call and thought I may have been mistaken, until the full, echoing call resounded through the trees.
It was an incongruous sound in broad daylight, but no less out of place than hearing a car alarm whistling in the mid-morning. Military aircraft, agricultural machinery and the postman’s van provide most of the mechanical soundtrack out here and these are rare enough. Birdsong and the conversation in gardens and across fences are the most common sounds that break up the backwash provided by the waves and wind.
In late afternoon I note that there are now two swallows sitting on the telephone wire. They are matched by a pair of goldfinches. These birds rarely settle for long. They are twittering constantly, fidgeting and jumping off to new perches at the slightest excuse, perhaps I should adopt one as my emblem? These unsettled years no longer seem temporary, but the way life has become for me.
On the last of the marshland to the east, there is a small, artificial lake . It looks natural enough; it is ungarnished apart from its island. The place is thick with small flies and numerous sand martins have come to feed on the wing. They chirrup as they swoop in delightful loops, arc back to return toward the surface again and again, skim the very skin of the pool, marking it with a splash from their contact, but so slight a mark that the water does not seem to even ripple after they have passed.
On the grassland and the hillside facing the setting Sun, hares sit and enjoy the warmth on their fur. They hold their ears up, always on the alert to possible danger, so look permanently startled. These nervous creatures need little excuse to tear off in panic. They rarely run in a straight line, preferring long curving sprints before suddenly switching direction, dust clouding their exit. I lose count of how many are out and about this evening. All they seem to do is sit, unless they are running away from something, or chasing off another of their number who has inadvertently loped into the wrong territory. What are they closer to, mice and rabbits, or dogs and wolves? When they run they move like greyhounds.
The strong winds are not a struggle for everyone. To appreciate this fully, one needs to witness a lapwing playing out a noisy display of stunt flying. Their squared off wings enable them to make spectacular turns, dives and climbs at speed which are the very epitome of random. Fascinating enough these complicated patterns would be on their own, but these demonstrations of agility are accompanied by a piping, tuneless calling which is as unpredictable as the flight manoeuvres. The peewit whistles like an ancient wireless radio set being tuned in after dark; all pops and whistles, whines and squeaks.
It is these moments that bring difference to the days. This is nature filling in for the absence of April showers, who would have previously been providing the seasonal variety.
23rd April, 2020