I was looking for something else when I came across some of the extracts I made from Richard Jefferies’ “The Gamekeeper at Home”, first published in 1878. Ian, a lad I once taught, had an ambition to become a keeper, and enjoyed reading this book together, despite the sometimes old-fashioned language. He had the capacity to stand and stare that Jefferies describes here. The book is available at Project Gutenberg.
Often and often, when standing in a meadow gateway partly hidden by the bushes, watching the woodpecker on the ant-hills, of whose eggs, too, the partridges are so fond (so that a good ant year, in which their nests are prolific, is also a good partridge year) you may, if you are still, hear a slight faint rustle in the hedge, and by-and-by a weasel will steal out. Seeing you he instantly pauses, elevates his head, and steadily gazes: move but your eyes and he is back in the hedge; remain quiet, still looking straight before you as if you saw nothing, and he will presently recover confidence, and actually cross the gateway almost under you.
This is the secret of observation: stillness, silence, and apparent indifference.
At the top of Saint Thomas’s Hill, behind the University, the old road dips down and climbs again to Blean Church, far enough from the main road to grow this bed of lichen on a tombstone. On a grey day it glows.
A most unexpected contrast as I was cycling home from the supermarket. The low, wintry, afternoon sun is full on the bridge and the lady walking through, but the naked tree is black against the gold of the willow stems behind. The shadow of the bridge at work!
At L’Arche Kent we cannot let a year go by without some of us joining in the BBC and RSPB’s* annual Big Bird Watch – spending an hour at the Glebe,§ watching to see how many species and how many individuals call in to our feeding stations.
Nothing exotic here! The parakeets have not arrived yet, there must be plenty of pickings in the Thanet seaside towns to encourage them to say.
But we saw seven sparrows at once and a pair of moorhens: as you see, we are at the riverside. We were quite surprised not to spot any wood pigeons, but when our photographer went to speak to someone at the other end of the garden he saw that they had been there all the time, behind the shed and out of sight. The rats were there all the time too, but then it was the first day of the Year of the Rat.
As ever, the afternoon ended with a shared meal, in thanks for a shared afternoon enjoying creation.
*BBC – British Broadcasting Corporation, the radio and tv people; RSPB – Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
§ Glebe: a plot of land for the priest to grow food on: a church allotment.
We recently heard from George, who has just started working in Cambridge, full of glee because the parrots are now living in Cambridge. He’s also seen them very much at home in Thanet, London and Manchester. How long before they colonise Canterbury?
This one ripping cherry blossom to pieces was in Amsterdam but could have been up to the same tricks in any of the English places mentioned.
(from “Sappho: One Hundred Lyrics” by Bliss Carman)
I’m not sure I agree with the last three lines, but perhaps it is up to us to be audacious and visit some of those who lack the warmth of human contact; the elderly should not depend on memory’s long thoughts alone to warm their hearts.
This morning, as the curtains opened, here were three wood pigeons in the birch tree – and one still next-door, in the lime. Everyone in this picture is keeping a social distance, but it’s still four weeks to the birds’ wedding day on Saint Valentine’s.
Every year the wood pigeons nest in the tall birch in next door’s garden, while there are two old collared doves’ nests in our apricot tree.
Usually the pigeons stick together, perched in the same tree, even upon the same branch, but this month one of them has been resting in one of the lime (tillia) trees we planted after the hurricane, which are now big enough to take a collared doves’ nest at least. The two birds were within sight of each other.
Which tree would the wood pigeons choose? Were they utterly estranged, or perhaps strangers to each other; I had no way of telling. But this morning both were in the birch tree. An early sign of Spring?
Yesterday, 2nd January, I surprised this pheasant within Canterbury’s city walls. He flew up from the river bridge into the former Tannery housing development as I cycled over the Stour, and ended up perched on this window sill.
I guess he had escaped the New Year’s shoots somewhere to the West of town and followed the river’s green corridor, across the main road and Saint Mildred’s churchyard till it narrowed to the width of the river and a row of old willows with the flat faces of the homes hard against them. He had perhaps been sharing the ducks’ breadcrumbs at river level, and panicked when I rolled up.