Island Blog – Still Snow

This morning I walk at 07.30, marching out into the freezing wind without a jacket. I test myself. Just walk, I say, get on with it. Once you have gone a short way, your ice blood will click into action, to warm you. And, it does, although I am very aware of the windwhip with its icy fingers going where nobody goes but me. I am fit, strong and wiry. I can do this. However all this ‘I can do this’ thingy does distract me somewhat from paying attention to the trees, their brave change, their pushing out of leaves and buds against such a chill. Spring is playing games with us, I tell them, once I forget myself and connect with them. One of them replies with a creak. I hear you, I say, even as I know that I have a cheerful woodburner to welcome me back into the warmth. It is a sycamore, all leaved up and hosting a zillion little birds who, with no respect at all, are tweaking off the buds to get to the juicy snacks. The floor of the track is a rainbow of colours. I roll my eyes and, yet, I know that this tree and others have allowed the Spring snatch for centuries and it doesn’t affect their subsequent growth and development. Good for you, I say, to the sycamore, to the larch, to others whose first burst of excitement ends up on the ground, for they know this game and have learned the ways of it and grown into acceptance. How wise is nature and how far behind we are in this. It thinks me.

A cuckoo flies right over my head and rasps at me, looping away into the beyond. Did you choose a finch nest, a warbler, a pipit, some poor overworked mother who will probably lose all her own babies because your fat chick will wheech them overboard before they can fly? I wander past banksy flowers, huddled to the ground, primrose, sorrel not yet open to the sun, anemones, bluebells, celandine, speedwell and self-heal. the colour they add to the ground, a heart lift after such a long winter. A winter of change, of doubt and of fear, of connection and of precious moments on zoom. Further, and I come to the huge beech trees, silver limbed and spread wide across my walking. The ones in sheltered places are leafing up now, the ones facing a sea blast are holding back, for now, but they are ready. Blackthorn explodes into blossom, pinkly white and frothy like vanilla milk shake. The larch trees are dancers, long fronds of emerald hanging from their ancient limbs, ebullient. I watch sheep rise on hind legs to grab a morsel of green, graceful and surprisingly so considering their short fat bulk and even shorter legs. The sea rushes up to greet me and I can smell the coconut gorse, the salt and the seaweed, fresh as a hit of sudden joy. I stand awhile to savour the wild smell, to take in the stories, these ones from the northern lands and I remind myself to take note for soon the winds will swing and only the southern tales will barrel in for me to hear and to learn from. These stories are centuries old and I don’t know the script. I just know they are coming to me, to anyone who has the ears to listen.

I hear trouble. It sounds like a domestic. Moving on, I see starlings flitter and scream between the branches of an oak and know there is a predator nearby. I stop to watch. One tawny owl lifts from the branches, a young fledgling in its claws. Another follows, empty handed, but I know and the starlings know, it will be back. It is daylight, 3 pm. Owls hunt at night, don’t they? It thinks me again. If owls are hunting easy meat in the daylight, they must be hungry. On this island of many predators, the sea eagle, the buzzard, the osprey, the hawks and the owls, perhaps there is not enough food to go around. I don’t know enough to know that but what I do know is that I was lucky to see the gentle lift of two magnificent tawny owls through the trees and, also, to witness the pluck and collective determination of, well, about 8 starlings in their collective defence and attack on those who would steal their young. I watched those starlings spin and dive against the owls in a way that taught me. It doesn’t matter how small you are, you can still stand against injustice.

And there is still snow on the Ben.

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