2.00 p.m.: it was the summer storm we’d been waiting for, though not predicted by this morning’s weather forecast. A good 25mm, 1” of drain-blocking rain in an hour. Before I tackled that little job (and I would have waited for Abel, had I known he was almost on the doorstep) I looked out of the back door.
The rain had ceased. Movement in the apricot tree: a song thrush decided it was time to dry herself off. An all over shake; spreading first the left wing, then the right, preening each with her bill; fanning the tail and giving that a good shake, followed by a dance move no human could copy: head thrust forward and down, feathers all fluffed, then three or four undulations from head to tail. That did the job! Satisfied, she preened herself once more and flew away.
I’ve seen few thrushes in our garden over the past few years. It was an extra pleasure to witness this intimate moment in her life.
When I looked out of the window this morning, I saw that it had been raining in the night. But that can happen at any time in England. What was so spring-like about it? Simply that under the lime tree (tilia) opposite our window was a circle of dry pavement. The leaf cover has arrived! I celebrated with a brew of lime flower tea, though using flowers picked from by the river, not from street trees! A class from the nursery school had taken great interest in my foraging last summer.
I probably should not take my mobile phone to church on a Sunday, though 90% of the time I remember to silence it – and then forget to turn the rings on again afterwards, so receive no messages.
However, the gadget serves to record, once in a while, the glories of what I might otherwise miss. This third-rate photo just gives the impression of scarlet pimpernel and purple grass heads taking over some bare soil at the top of the hill. Almost an abstract.
Lovely enough to say, ‘Good Morning Life, and all things glad and beautiful.’ (WH Davies).
Next day, somewhat dispiritedly riding home in the rain, I spotted maybe a hundred starlings, adults and juveniles, enjoying the downpour because it was bringing worms and leatherjackets to the surface of the park. Would I have noticed them if they’d been quiet? Maybe not, but they are incapable of staying quiet! ‘Good Morning Life, and all things glad and beautiful.’
It feels as though Will Turnstone has been hibernating these last few weeks. Did he notice the blackheaded gull in full plumage out there on Valentine’s day? He did, but did not tap the keys. Nor did he tap the keys for the wren that disappeared behind an ivy leaf at his approach, the goldcrest opposite the kitchen window, the bluetit possibly prospecting the nest box used last year; Br’er Fox crossing his and Mrs T’s path at 6.00 in town; the rainbows that punctuated recent showers – a gift from the low-shining sun; the lapwings, redshanks, pochard, and others at Rye, in the company of Mrs T; the daffodils wide awake for Saint David’s Day on March 1st. But be sure that he did indeed notice them and rejoice.
We buried our friend Mrs O a few days ago. She had a good send-off, the church comfortably full. I was comforted an hour earlier, to see a rainbow, arched over her house as the rain drifted away into the North Sea. A promise that she will not perish! And the thrush and blackbird were singing.
‘Safe’ by Mary Webb.
Under a blossoming tree
Let me lie down,
With one blackbird to sing to me
In the evenings brown.
Safe from the world’s long importunity –
The endless talk, the critical, sly stare,
The trifling social days – and unaware
Of all the bitter thoughts they have of me,
Low in the grass, deep in the daisies,
I shall sleep sound, safe from their blames and praises.
That is one of Mrs Turnstone’s favourite poems.
This particular rainbow over Mrs O’s house occurred a few years ago.
We have had rain every day this week, filling the rivers, but giving us many rainbows. A bit of a cheat to show this one which was taken in June in the West of Scotland, where such weather is less remarkable, but I’ve been out without camera or phone. Our rainbows have been as welcome, even with an urban backdrop.
It was raining when I visited Miss Turnstone’s class of four and five year olds to talk about trees and plant a couple.
Talking about trees was really enjoyed by the children and by me. I don’t know that, aged 5, I’d have dared put my hand up to say, ‘We’ve got a pear tree at home, Mr Turnstone.’ It showed that the child was making connections, but in my time in primary school it would have been about the right connections, as defined by teacher.
Still, we talked about roots and shoots and nuts and fruit and leaves and soil and plant food (bone meal being porridge for trees) and worms.
Worms fascinate four year olds; I don’t think one of the twenty or so who came out to plant trees in the rain did not pick up a worm and have a good look. We had to be reminded that they live in the ground and help the trees grow!
The children are excellent at taking turns, or we could not have planted the trees safely; three people with hand forks and trowels is enough at any one hole at a time! But the holes were dug, thanks to someone’s ten year old big brother who came to help with the heavy work; the soil at the bottom was loosened and bone meal worked in; the trees, a hazel and a peach, were planted; muddy boots were taken off and muddy hands washed, ready for home time.
And something for everyone to talk about over tea: a lovely afternoon we had, despite the rain!