Sunshine, Swallows and Cathedral Peregrines

Rarely is the sky this blue; a perfect canvas for the circling buzzards that soar up-lit and up-lift. They stack, three to a thermal, in place of the planes whose absence allows the sky this clearing blue breath. Perfect canvas also for the half dozen brimstone butterflies indulged in delicate combat about the goat willow as through someone has animated the primrose flowers from the bottom of the hedgeline. This is the first weekend in April, and the world has taken to their gardens and the village paths in the first absorbing celebration of spring. The green reverberates to the sound of lawn mowers, a barking dog, and the Beethoven’s Fifth starter notes of blue tits.

Beyond my own garden, the tamed gives way to the barely managed; brambles in an unruly tangle until salix and other scrubby types push through, a dark smudge of yew, then a woodland of decaying ash which the ivy finds an easy climb. Sycamore samplings give the woods a verdant look by summer, masking the ash’s sickness. Above this treeline is the raptors realm; buzzards and kites patrol. Ravens grunt omens as they claim the skies. The edge of a village in the West Sussex downs, 15 minutes drive from the cathedral city centre, half hour from the bank holiday rush of coast.

Edit note – The above sentences are the first paragraphs typed out on my new laptop. My old technology gave up the ghost a few weeks ago, so writing has been limited to snippets on phone and paper page. Lunch break scribbles and morning thoughts.

Since Easter Sunday, things have been very different. Lawn mowers were returned to sheds, discarded coats hurriedly thrown back on, and those brimstones have all but vanished to whatever sheltered nook they emerged from on that fools spring weekend. Waves of snow and hail borne on freezing winds were a sharp edged reminder that the year is yet young. Today is a little brighter, softer, but we are forecast another frost tonight. Frost or not, the blackcap sings from day break in the scrub beyond the garden, his jumbled scratch of song doing as much to wake me as the rising light through the chink of curtain. Blackcaps from bed. Not a bad start to the day.

I’m still amazed by this home. We almost didn’t come to view the property; the agents photos showed it small, cramped, dark. A flat converted from a cottage; neighbours noises, cold, not enough space for books. In truth, it was and remains all those things, and one day we will out-grow it, although I doubt our finances will swell to match our need for expansion so we will be here a long while yet. But this place, for me at least, is so much more than the three steps across the living room, having to always have the ceiling light on in the kitchen because the cottage windows are too small to let much light in, and the bathroom window the swells in the winter and sticks fast in the frame. It is shrews that travel back and forth in their world of ferns and herb robert under the back door step. It’s the waiting for the swirl of swallows and house martins in the May sky, or the fieldfares that glean the windfalls under the winter-bare apple trees on the green. It’s red kites and ravens when hanging out the washing, and the cluster of ladybirds that hibernate in the corner of the porch.

This morning as I drove to work, I saw two swallows perched on the overhead wire at the sharp bend in the next village; my first swallows of the year. Tomorrow I have a day off, so cold wind or none, I am determined to get out for a walk and look for the pairs that return to the farmyard at the back of our village each year; see if they too have made the journey. Perhaps from there I will take the uphill path, through the woods, to where I can duck through the hedge to the field edge and the cowslip patch filled with skylark song. A few steps further and the path runs the hill crest, flanked by wide flint-strewn fields. Skylark song will torrent on, and far out a pin in the vista pricks the sky; the spire of the cathedral with its sprawling skirt of city. From this high on the downs, the pattern of houses and shops and roads looks like a sketch map, fading out on the edges as it blends into the canvas of countryside, glinting coastal inlet, and cloud shadows. I wonder how my view compares to that of the pair of peregrines that are currently sitting on eggs near the top of the cathedral, high above the city architecture. Back home, I can watch the peregrines via a live webcam trained on their nest. Watch the light dim towards the end of the day. Watch how carefully the female when returning to the nest after a brief spot of wing stretching and preening, folds in her talons so as not to risk piercing her precious eggs as she settles. Watch the fastest bird in the world as it sits tight and waits. Hatching wont happen for another 30 days.

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