f you sit out in a wild place with a birder, birds will be noted, no matter how big the subject you are discussing. You could even be talking about England’s chances in the women’s World Cup or England’s defeat in the cricket World Cup — but if a nice bird appears, it will be acknowledged.
Jim and I were talking through deep matters. Suicidal depression, in fact. He has been through a bad time. His name isn’t Jim, though he’d have no objection if I used his real name: being open about such matters is the best way of dealing with them. But an old-fashioned squeamishness possesses me, so Jim let him be.
He’s good man, pseudo-Jim. Works in wildlife conservation, a good birder — and crash-hot on dragonflies, leaving me well behind. As we sat out on the bit of marsh my family and I have the pleasure of looking after, we talked about blackness, about emergence into the light, about the people who really helped, about where that leaves everybody now, and most importantly, how to move on.
So sure, that’s another privilege: being there to listen and make the odd remark. He’s a damn good conservationist, and we need more of them, not less.
We talked about overwork, guilt, indebtedness, the loneliness of travel and hotel rooms, and how to hold onto what matters – and then we both shut up as if someone had turned a switch, for there in front of us, going like the clappers, fast, level, direct, shearing the air with wings that looked freshly honed, was a…
…hobby, a speedster, a migratory falcon – and as we watched and without missing a wingbeat he lowered a pair of legs, snatched something from the air and ate it. Dragonfly of course, but not even Jim could tell me what species. We finished our beers and walked back to the house; as we did so a barn owl flew past us in the ghostly way that barn owls specialise in, a dancing white shape among the apple trees of the garden.
These moments, these birds, they don’t eradicate problems and they don’t make life a barrel of laughs again. But even in bad times they make life a tiny bit easier to endure. On the longest day of all, it is appropriate to think about the ways darkness can become a little less black.