Flock of Solace

I find it interesting to note that to the untrained eye the word solace although derived from Latin, sōlātium – comfort (or sōlārī to console),  appears to contain the same root as the term for sun or solar (from Latin sōlāris, from sōl the sun). Perhaps it is just the perspective of my current experience of longing for brighter days that makes me connect the letters ‘sola’ in both words and see sun in solace and solace in the sun.

The depressed light levels and low cloud of a prolonged week of mild grey weather had had its usual seasonal siphoning effect on my energy and brightness; Ive been feeling heavy, dulled and irritable.

Time spent in nature, soaking up any meagre availability of sunlight and resting my eyes on shades of green invariably helps to improve my mood. So I headed out for a lunch-break walk more out of habit and necessity than any strong desire.

I encountered a flock of birds working their way through the trees and shrubs of the woodland edge where the path passes behind the village school, and stood entranced by them.

If you ever get to watch a bird preening, take a moment to appreciate the complexity of this perfect scrap of life. Grab some binoculars to magnify the view and really look at it. Each individual feather, each structure of exquisite eye, of sharp decisive bill, of clutching feet and racing heartbeat caged within the seemingly fragile chest cavity, is a miracle of nature’s engineering. Birds are remarkable; one basic design but a mind-boggling array of variations of a theme. But it had been a long while since I had really looked, properly looked at a bird.

This flock was made up of Blue Tits and Great Tits, Coal Tits and Goldcrests. There was the vibration of a Wren and the thrill of a bright-eyed Firecrest. I spent a full ten minutes watching them as the flock expanded and contracted through the woodland, each bird intent on its own activity and yet somehow, almost imperceptibly moving forward as a whole, until as suddenly as they appeared, they had passed me by. The rest of my walk featured individual birds, a Collared Dove on a telephone line, a matching pair of male Chaffinches each laying claim to the topmost branches of tall trees, on opposite sides of the street, a Wood Pigeon flapping laboriously up from the grass verge at my approach. But the effect and presence of the mixed flock, the autumnal gathering of small birds into one larger whole lingered on my mind for the rest of the day.

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