Nature Notes

The Falcon and the Gleam.

The rain and wind has flattened the strip of long, uncultivated grass on the awkward corner of an arable field. A vole runs from my feet. Last night, a barn owl hunted here. I only heard it’s urgent ppsshhhht as it quartered the field, but two days earlier, I glimpsed it on a fence post, hocks together and toes turned out, wings folded behind its back and with the evening’s mizzle beading its lightly toasted feathers. It gave me two long second’s worth of eye contact with its unreadable, midnight-dewpond eyes before flying off.

I rescue a one-inch toad heading for the woodpile. We’ll be needing that tonight and rather than unhouse him accidentally, I cup him in my hands and release him near one especially constructed for him. An hour later, my daughter puts on a welly from the boot stand outside the front door and her toes meet with a wood mouse. It leaps away, but must have spent a cosy night on the porch, curled up in the upside-down toe of the boot. We stuff the cracks of the house to prevent them coming indoors.

It continues to rain. There is a gap in the wood like a moon in the sky, that has been there all summer. A hole in the otherwise impenetrable canopy where I can see the white sky and the curved hill beyond. Bigger winds have begun to blow bigger holes through it, but for now, the single hole is still there, drawing my eye. The rain streams down the lane, sluicing leaves and small stones, cross-hatching in long, graphite lines over the tarmac, and soaking through my old and inadequate leggings and coat.

In places where the rain has receded a little, sycamore leaves have kept a chalk patina, their veins outlined in pale relief, where the rain running down the track & over them like spilt milk has left its residue: the surface of an old ocean, re-wetted, re-emulsified, momentarily set free.

Tiny haw berry lanterns glimmer with drops of rain and the bloom is smudged off sloes. Guelder rose fruits gleam like fireworks and the black buttons of purging buckthorn shine. I revel in the sensory joy of sloshing and the fact that even above the swish of my (un)waterproofs and the roar of water raining, pattering and running through the wood, I hear the softest whistling ‘seeip’ of redwings coming in.

The chimney starling has been mimicking a golden plover’s rain-dread whistle a whole fortnight before I see them myself, in a gauzy veil over the fields. I wonder if the starling anticipated their arrival with the season and the wind direction, or if they’ve been passing over the house at night for fourteen days already, when I’ve been shored up and insulated, inside. 

Out on the lower slope of the hill, an unidentified, large falcon seems to come from nowhere, swoops close by, pivots and comes back past me for a closer look. Enthralled, I am baffled by its identification. And then I see jesses dangling from its legs, the leather straps that mark it as a falconer’s bird. It flies off, pursued by jackdaws and a raven.  There is no one about. Not a gauntleted soul in sight. I wonder, if I’d thought to hold my fist out, it was looking to land, to come home? The centre cannot hold, I think. The falcon cannot hear the falconer. The words of Yeats’ poem circle. The falcon has spun off and gone out of reach. We have become unstuck.

We held a climate week at school last month and watched the videos shared by the young conservationists and activists to launch the State of UK Nature Report, 2019. It made such grim reading. But we cannot think there is nothing we can do. The ceremony of innocence is drowning and we cannot wait for some revelation to come to hand. We must all act.  I follow the gleam of the setting sun for a while; there is an apricot bar of light at the last of the day. A heavy, pewter-lidded sun blinks. Goes out over Wiltshire.

8 thoughts on “Nature Notes

  1. Just read your post. Once again, was so impressed with your ability to immerse the reader in the landscape… your words, a subtle celebration of its nuances… Your obvious longstanding knowledge of the area, its patterns of growth, light, human intervention and the ever-present activities of wildlife is conveyed with delicacy and affection. I share your belief in the urgency of protecting wild habitat and its inhabitants. Thank you for your inspiring, poetic perambulations through a world worth saving…

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