I walked round Ifield Millpond yesterday. It was a beautiful, cold, crisp, winter morning. The sky was clear and blue, and the sun hung low, so that blinding sunlight bounced off the frozen surface of the millpond, making photography difficult. The grass and undergrowth were rimed with frost, and ice scrunched underfoot. A heron who habitually sits at the waters’ edge, was perched on the branch of a tree. The water birds, usually seen swimming happily, were today skidding and skating precariously on the ice. Three Canada geese one behind the other slowly and carefully plodded towards a patch of open water near the bridge. The first two held their footing reasonable well, but the last one slipped drunkenly on every step – two steps forward and one slip-step backwards. Seagulls coming to land, ran a few slippery steps, wings flapping wildly to keep their balance before coming to a standstill. A solitary duck padded across the ice, webbed feet flapping, but the rest of the ducks seemed to be crowded into a narrow stretch of water between the bank and the boardwalk.
The funniest of all had to be the coots. They looked rather like misshapen, feathered rugby-balls, with ungainly legs and long flat toes that are usually hidden under the water. No doubt the toes with flabby flaps of skin that act rather like webbed feet are ideal for paddling through water, but they are not really designed for walking on ice! The faster the coots tried to go, the more they slipped and slithered. But however much difficulty the birds had staying upright on the ice, I didn’t see any actually fall over; and thankfully neither did I!
We usually see the world from our own eye level. Children see a swathe of knees and trousers – a limited view, their eye-line often blocked. As an adult I see from a slightly more elevated level, and see faces and expressions. Go higher and our view extends even further, but the higher we get the more we tend to look down. I remember a couple of years ago looking down from the top of Old Dungeness Lighthouse in Kent, and last summer staring out across the Lincolnshire countryside from Sibsey Trader Windmill. Even with our feet firmly on the ground, we are always looking down – avoiding muddy puddles, wary of the broken paving stone that might trip us up. Consequently, unless we’re star-gazing, we rarely notice what is actually straight above us. When we do look up, what a different world we then can see; from clouds to skyscrapers, from the natural to the constructed. New perspectives, fresh patterns, surprising shapes and shadows. A new view of the familiar, and an unexpected view of the ordinary that makes it extraordinary. So take a moment to look up, and be surprised!
Aren’t the autumn colours beautiful? The skies might be overcast and grey; but the brightness of the leaves make up for it! The leaves of the cornus or dog wood were some of the first to change, fading to dusky pink, and hanging on red stems, while most trees around were still green. Then was the turn of the maple in all its different varieties. Now the furry sumac branches are aflame with red and orange, and all the lower leaves are gone. The hornbeam leaves turned bright yellow, but most have already fallen, and next doors old Oak, who always holds on the longest, is at last sprinkling its crisp yellow-brown leaves thickly across the grass.
I did a spot of gardening this week, and my robin was back (see my last post – A robin sang). He sat in the wire fence and watched me dig a large hole to accommodate a camellia that had out-grown its pot. He flitted down to the bucket where I put the excess soil, then he hopped onto my spade, and even when he darted back into the undergrowth I could still hear him singing. I realise that he wasn’t really watching me, but was actually keeping an eye out for any worms and grubs I might unearth; and I have to confess that I did search out a few extra worms for him from the lid of the compost bin.
When I saw him last time I didn’t have my camera handy, but this time I had come prepared. I know he isn’t really my robin, but it feels like he is. Autumn can be a difficult time for me as I go through some painful anniversaries, but every time I see my little robin, and every time I hear his lilting voice, he warms my heart and lifts my spirits.
As summer turns to autumn, the squirrels are becoming very active in my garden. More often than not, they have acorns in their mouths, ready to ‘plant’ them into my pots and tubs, or anywhere the rain dampened soil has become soft enough. I realise the squirrels are only following instinctive patterns to hoard food for the barren winter months, but in hiding their cache of acorns, they usually manage to dig up and destroy my carefully planted flowers. Even if they don’t disturb the plants, the squirrels inevitably forget where they’ve planted the acorns, and next spring little oak trees will shoot up in my tubs and in my flower beds. As soon as I notice them I have to pull them out before they begin to take over.
After sending the dog out to chase yet another acorn-wielding squirrel off the patio, I got to thinking. And I wondered how often other people dig into our lives, and leave behind them seeds such as anger and resentment or discontent, that begin to grow and take over our thoughts and attitudes without us actually realising they are there. I kept thinking, and I began to wonder what seeds I plant into other people’s lives. Do I plant negative, hurtful things, or do I plant encouraging and affirming things, such as love and acceptance. I know which I would rather have planted and nurtured in my life, and I know I would also prefer to plant good things in the lives of others.
I have a bird-bath in my garden. It’s not a very big bird-bath, but it is frequented by a great variety of birds, large and small, from blue tits and robins, to pigeons and magpies. I have to fill it up every morning, and often have to clean it out – birds are not the cleanest of creatures whilst taking a bath! On a couple of occasions recently I’ve even had to scoop sodden bits of burnt toast and mouldy bread out of the water! ‘Must’ve been dropped by a bird flying over the garden,’ I thought, naively.
Then one afternoon last week I spotted the culprit. A crow was sitting on the edge of the bird-bath, with a whole slice of bread clamped in his beak. He stood for a moment, looking round, and then quite deliberately dropped it into the water, swooshed it about with his beak, and then started eating it. I grabbed my camera; but the crow spotted me creeping closer, and he was off, leaving another soggy piece of bread in my bird-bath!
I live in West Sussex, Southern England, in a town called Crawley, an area once covered with oak forests. The name Crawley comes from the old English ‘crawe’, meaning crow, and ‘ley’, meaning clearing in a wood; hence Crawley means ‘a clearing in a crows wood’, so of course, we do have a large number of crows! I had thought they were just noisy, belligerent birds, I hadn’t realised that they are really quite intelligent!
Reminds me of the Alfred Hitchcock film from 1963, based on the 1952 story by Daphne du Maurier – The Birds …….!
I wonder what it’s like to be a pregnant blackbird (if pregnant is the right term for a blackbird soon to lay eggs). I only ask because I saw an extremely fat lady blackbird yesterday, and she was thoroughly enjoying her time in my bird-bath. She splashed and flapped for some minutes, water flying everywhere. When she had finished she waddled around the edge of the bird-bath; but then changed her mind and got back in again, and had another good splash. I remember being pregnant, and the tightness of my skin, and I wondered if the cool water was soothing to her over-stretched belly. Finally she did indeed finish, and swooped heavily the short distance to the fence. She preened carefully, pulling her clean feathers into place, before fluttering into the laurel bush and the safety of her nest. A few minutes later her mate took his turn in the bird-bath. But his was only a perfunctory dip compared to the long thorough bath his lady had taken. I wondered how often that is reflected in human-kind, particularly in the young of the species!
As I filled up the bird-bath again this morning; I wondered how long it would be before a hoard of baby blackbirds were lined up around the bird-bath, by a scrupulously clean mother blackbird!