Nothing is like the smell of fresh-mown grass, caught unexpected in the air as you pass, breaking through the present with a thousand memories of playing fields and picnics and grassy, bare knees. Up and down the dale, mowers join birds in chorus as the weather makes cutting-time decisions for us. But to get that particular, cut grass high, it’s still always a case of right place, right time. Today, I am lucky for the first day this year and sure enough every Summer yesterday swiftly re-appears.
Of course, the blue tits prefer to begin nesting in our garage eaves rather than taking up residence in the box purchased specially from the RSPB. But why must they insist on pulling out endless tufts of roof insulation and scattering it all over the terrace, much to our constant consternation? They’ve obviously decided their field-foraged lining is far superior to ours but blatant house decimation for bird-nest creation is taking it a little too far… Maybe next year, we should fill the nesting box with stacks of rich yellow foam, then perhaps they’ll throw out all of that and leave our poor garage roof alone!
I’m on the tops when the starlings drop and at last I am in a murmuration. Totally surrounded. Utterly dumbfounded; left bereft of any real explanation for the rush of thrill that I half-feel still at the memory of full-flock storm twisting and turning, as they answered my yearning, to be caught up in their shifting, swirling swarm.
All at once, every daffodil shoot standing patiently to attention explodes into flower in a tidal wave of golden synchronisation like popcorn kernels bursting to treat in rapid fire succession.
Who needs a red carpet when bold bright trumpets line every road – announcing Spring and promising yellow-bricked travel all the way home? It feels as if every bloom-decked lane has been decorated for you alone.
Someone told me our daffodil miles are legacies of the Second World War, when flower crops were pushed aside so vegetables could come to the fore, that planting daffodil bulbs along verges was like a vast seed bank store…
What a win for the English motorist, that they still line all our highways like ground-bound bunting strung up in time to mark the Easter holidays, vivid aisles of glowing petal sunshine that annually amaze.
It seems like Honeysuckle comes back to life overnight as hundreds of green leaf butterflies suddenly alight then open their wings to shape shift again, transmorphing into water lilies in a masquerading game. Her trails interweave with settled Ivy’s evergreens, shining fresh growth green with an almost glowing gleam. I greet her reawakening with gently bubbling joy anticipating the pinks and perfumes she will soon deploy.
A persistent little bleat and four gambolling feet chase their mother down for dinner. But Ewe moves fast to scoff enough grass to avoid feeding making herself thinner. Thank goodness lamb stops before Ewe’s tail lifts to drop yesterday’s feasting in her wake. But then he gains more speed and finally meets his need, drinking deep with a gleeful tail shake.
Warren watching, hopping spotting, I would gladly stay observing rabbits and their habits all the livelong day. Now I know they’ll make a show every morning when I’m out I play predict – five, four or six – how many will be about? Counting a colony is an advanced hobby for they dart, dive and freeze, then there’s camouflage to disguise they’re at large – you won’t see them if they don’t please. But great rewards soon afford when you persist in applied appreciation. If you don’t slacken off you’ll discover lagomorphs offer quite the very best stimulation.
Just at this point when Spring is gaining the upper hand, it’s hard for us to even begin to halfway understand that this turning point that represents so much renewing growth doesn’t provide everything with this same sense of hope. For British birds and beasts, this is the great hunger gap when edible growth is scarce and there’s no more stored up snacks. Just as we’re fixating on flurrying lambs and blossoming trees, fierce battles for survival are raging among those in need. Thank goodness for Mavericks like Ivy supplying fresh March food when things would otherwise be desperate in most neighbourhoods. So when you sigh in relief for a ‘making it to Spring’ reason, spare some seed for those not yet benefitting from the season.
Jackdaws and buzzards clash in the sullen skies, re-enacting the Battle of Britain with war-charged flight. Buzzard dives aggressively, spreading his Spitfire wings, desperate to assert his sovereignty over invading kings. But Jackdaw is nimble and intent on domination, mobilising his squadron in intimidating formations. The struggle is dramatic, enhanced by hostile weather, blustering and battering every fuselage feather. But the buzzards triumph in the end, as we knew they would, try as they might the jackdaws fail to re-write the history books. War stories haunt collective memory, echoing in refrains – how long till we look to the clouds and only see birds again?
What is it that feels so personal about a surprise attack of hail, like a well-aimed blow or a dose of anti-fan mail. It usually falls with such violence, you hardly believe it’s not being thrown with the one singular purpose of spoiling your plans alone. Yesterday it pummelled my car on a winding country lane and the crash of stone on metal drummed an almost deafening strain. I surrendered and slowed my speed right down to a cautious, creeping crawl but I could still barely see through its thumping, grumping squall. I’ve resolved to be kinder to sleet, but I draw the line at hail, I can find no goodness in it, I have tried to no avail.
English is full of idioms for going the wrong way; blind alleys and garden paths can both lead you astray. But as yet no one has immortalised the devious sheep path which looks so well trod… only to get the last laugh as you find yourself knee-deep in spongy, marshy heather at just exactly the point there’s a turn for the worse in the weather. So next time you find yourself searching for the perfect phrase to describe being horribly misled in a most frustrating way, may I propose you refer to the devilish sheep path to provide a perfectly perilous metaphor on your behalf?
Viburnum passes the baton with slow fading grace as Wild Cherry begins the local Spring tree race. My first glimpse is by the roadside as the car speeds past too fast to stop and applaud the arrival of my favourite sight starting at last. Frothy flowers of pastel commence candy flossing the trees, delighting and uniting with the little girl in me. Now I’m on constant lookout, hunting everywhere for blooms, searching for rich pink avenues, willing them to open soon. This is the peak of my year – and it’s coming, sure as the dawn – renewal written in petals, always lovelier than years before.
Lichen is up to its old tricks I see, completely covering this slender beech tree – coating every inch with seeming orange dust, giving wood the look of metal as it rusts; tarnishing a trunk that would otherwise seem new, cheating fresh-faced growth out of greenwood youth.
Ivy launches a new look – indifferent to seasonal trends; ignoring the fresh Spring fashions sported by most of her friends. She eschews pale green leaf buds, rejects blushing pink, disdains cheerful yellow to boldly do her own thing. There’s a touch of the goth about her as she douses herself in black, living out her own personal Autumn – trying to bring berries back. Black is classic and elegant, it never goes out of style, Ivy believes herself chicer – wears a smooth, satisfied smile.
High on Hanging Moor on a wild Bronte day when air and cloud merge into endless biting grey, breaking through the bleak comes a pure haunting cry – the first calling curlews returning to home skies. Advancing from the estuaries to circle still-black heather, summoning hidden hopes to rise above the bitter weather.
Is it really only me who looks at chickens and sees them tottering along in high heels, as if trying to impress with extreme forms of dress to increase their popular appeal? ‘’Look at me,’’ they cluck as they boldly strut their stuff, with their heads so haughtily high raised. ‘’Watch me fabulously preen even while I also glean, I deserve to be endlessly praised.’’
March seems bent on redressing its flowery reputation, rebranding itself as a gangster coldly terrorising the nation. Its touch is fierce and chilly, with ice in its veins, it may have Spring’s beauty but it’s inherited Winter’s brains. The truculent child of both, warring within its own self, the minute it tends to warmth, it regresses to something else. No one can appease it as it stomps and blusters and blows, whether it will tire itself into calm, nobody yet knows. I wish it would get past its tantrums – accept its calendar place, get on with ushering in growth, take to sunnily smiling with grace. But it still seems insistent on holding out for redefinition, asserting its tougher side and seeking Winterly recognition.
Everyone needs a guide and you are always mine, leading through peaks and dales, opening town-bound eyes. Unveiling the overlooked, naming the newly found, reframing familiar sights, quietening for distant sounds. I speak your language now, my knowledge is growing tall, but you keep questing for more, and I love to follow it all. I keep walking beside you as you tend the world to bright, you keep teaching me joy, quickening my heart to write. Together, we forage the wild, soar with the wonders we find, thank you for constant adventure, for never leaving me behind.
The moment it’s out, we are too – rushing to feel it’s warmth for even a moment or two. The texts ping in all day, ‘isn’t it lovely outside?’, we’re all part of the frenzy, caught up in vitamin D highs. I stand and catch a few rays every time my tea brews, feeling justified in my obsession, knowing this spike will make the news. The dog turns it into a pilgrimage, following beams from room to room, stretching out more like a cat for most of the afternoon. But you can’t really blame us, we’re English after all, so it’s always a major event when the sun bothers to call.
I read about some interesting research the other day that claimed bird song makes us happier than getting higher pay! I don’t know how they measured this or what quantities they used but I can well believe the truth of it, and surely you can too? Particularly at this time of year, when it’s like a volume dial is being daily turned up, accompanied all the while by blooms breaking bud and growing sunshine that warm memories into promises of better, brighter times. Everything insides us associates birdsong with Spring and that intangible sense of hope renewing every living thing.
We love the resident birds who share our home turf space – so much so we make sure to give all of them names. But Mavis the blackbird is sinking in our estimations since she took up her new hobby of veg bed devastation. She systematically works her way up and down the strawberry bed, flinging out compost and runners in the hope of being fed on choice worms and spiders that might be hiding there, with no thought for our garden plans – it really isn’t fair. Now her husband Cyril is copying her disruptive tricks, dislodging the raspberry cane soil with destructive little flicks. We’ve tried shouting and clapping to inspire some form of repentance but they seem completely unaffected, so it looks like grudging acceptance is the only option open to us now they’re committed to this path – it’s time to quit the intended reform we’re imagining on their behalf.
Inspired by my mental meanderings of a couple of weeks ago, when I pondered the underwater lives the river hides below, today, as I walked through Spring Wood, my thoughts turned to the soil and that other mysterious world I forget, concealed beneath us all. With every single step I make, I cover more surface ground, oblivious to all the teeming wonders my senses haven’t found. In each field of hidden earth I neglect to even consider bulb shoots searching for light while worms busily slither, warrens warming sleeping rabbits and moles tunnelling along, buried seeds secretly germinating, beetles finding a place to belong. Such a plethora of life lives largely unnoticed by me as I stride on in ignorance, blind to all I cannot see.
Finally, it’s the first of March and I want to clap my hands. Spring is officially here so Winter must be banned. But this morning’s misty cold just underlines how wrong I am; seasons don’t switch like that in a neat, calendared plan. Instead they wrestle and tussle in a back and forth tug of war, repeatedly alternating which one features more. Yesterday I wore no coat on a beautiful sun-kissed day when the air was still and fragrant and February felt like May. I flung the back door open and sat on the terrace to read, but today I’m back huddled inside – it feels like it was just a dream. Spring’s colours are surely starting but Winter has not gone away, frosting the mornings with white, overcasting the yellows with grey. They say March enters like a lion but then leaves again like a lamb, so I guess I have to be patient and keep waiting the best I can.