Chalk Percolated Rain, and Rain Birds
There is, at last, a hardening; a crust to the mud of landrover tracks, to the pocks of hoof and boot prints. There is still a thigh burning pull through gateways and wetter places. But suddenly, we are talking about harrowing and rolling.
The winter rain’s pond in the parkland recedes daily, leaving a strandline. Twigs and flotsam mark a green iris around an ever-shrinking mirror-bright pupil. Around the great park trees lie chainsawed piles of wood. Lost limbs of winter.
On the chalk ridgeway, opaque puddles lie like troughs of spilt milk. But the dewponds, secretive, crowded now by blackthorn and bronze-leaved bramble are clear-eyed, unblinking, tranquil, unfathomable. These are otherwise dry hills; the rain quickly shed, or drained through pervious chalk like the sea sponges it is made of.
East Garston, and the winterbourne is flowing with winter’s chalk-percolated rain. The aquifers have filled and overspilt, enlivening the village as the Lambourn migrates upstream, back-bubbling to its source of springs in the Valley of the Racehorse, quickening the perennial river downstream. In the trees around the gallops, fieldfare, redwing and starling chatter in a departure lounge for the summer north. Their combined subsong gives the chalkstream the watery babble it rarely has, being so benign. Three seconds silence pre-empt a decanting stream of birds onto fields to feed. Only the redwings call. Their thin ‘seeip’ first heard on autumn nights, seeding the warming earth to spring before leaving.
A stolen hour. On a day of chalk-infused blue above ploughed white fields, the air is chillier than it looks. Yellowhammers sing full phrases, their bright bodies fruiting the still bare-brown hedges like crab apples.
A snatch of a peewit’s yodelling cry alerts me to a flock of lapwing among starlings. They mingle until spooked, when each species migrates to their own, like the warp and weft of cloth separating. The starlings briefly coalesce into a sphere that bounces into a lozenge, drifts and seeds itself onto the field again. The lapwing flash monochrome on ponderous, puppety flopwings.
Spring displays are hinted at in abrupt deviations and tumbles accompanied by a faint, creaking wuthering of wing edges wider at their fingered tips, than where they begin. The birds appear black and white, but a low bow to a partner reveals warm apricot and in flat light, dun and Verdigris. Then, a beetlesheen of magenta and bottle-green is echoed in the petrol spotted iridescence of the starlings. Some are so close I can see them blindly tremble a prospecting toe into the earth for grubs
A passing buzzard causes a small bow-wave of nerviness. A Mexican wave of starling hop and resettlement. The lapwing cock their heads skywards, flicking their crests over their shoulder. Then continue feeding. On my way home, I spot 12 fallow does grazing in a fallow field. My stolen hour turns into two.