Nature Notes

Thunderlight on the Plough.

Heavy downpours cause the winterbourne, sunk since January, to rise and flow wide and fast through the pasture and across the road, ignoring the culverts built for it. I stop the car. Skylarks row vertically upwards through the rain, but they are not singing; I wonder that their nests may be drowned. I hold my breath, head for the camber and drive through the flood.IMG_3456

Later that day, I open the school library windows at the very moment the swifts come home. They scream past like the Red Arrows, heading for summer above the High Street, practicing peloton curves around the Town Hall.

Then, I can almost hear growth happening. The thin lines of winter have been gone over with a thick, neon green marker. Suddenly it’s proper spring and everything is happening at once.

We wait one warm night for badgers. Just as the light fails, the sow comes out halfway and sniffs the air. But then two cubs appear either side, wedging her in at her hips. They squeeze and pop out with a tumbling growl and a third cub follows, climbing onto its mother’s head, biting her neck. She rounds on them with a loud snarl and chases them all back in.

Another evening after rain, thunderlight gleams dully off the plough. And although the soil that still clings to it is barely two weeks turned, nettles have thrust themselves between the coulter and the beam, their fierce, arrowheads freckled with cherry blossom.IMG_3509

Sudden acrid smoke puthers across the field. A neighbour’s chimney is on fire. I grab my bike to cycle the short distance to alert them, as it emits sparks like a blast furnace.

I am not ready to go home. The little owl is calling and there are grass snakes under a sheet of corrugated iron. I cycle to the bluebell wood and a fox earth in the bank. The honey scent is all the sweeter after the fire and the rain. A woodpigeon has been dragged into the fox earth. I wait, leaning against warm, fragrant bark as the wood steams and patters. All the birds sing; blackbirds, a thrush mimicking a kite, wrens, blackcap and willow warbler. The foxes do not come out. Somewhere off, there is the rhythmical bang of the tin lid on a pheasant hopper as the fallow deer try to get at the corn.

I strain my ears to hear the soft, low frog-like purring of what just might be a turtle dove. I can’t be sure. It sounds like the earth is breathing, while I hold my breath to listen.

When I get home, I can still trace the imprint on my arm of the bark of a western red cedar.

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4 thoughts on “Nature Notes

  1. ‘It sounds like the earth is breathing, while I hold my breath to listen.’ Such a striking observation, Nicola. The whole piece is stunning, and I love how you end, withholding the name of the tree till the last sentence, and the bark leaving its badge on your skin just as the reader is left with the quiet imprint of your words….

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