A tiny scratching noise from the window as I sat here typing away. Naturally I raised my eyes. And for a second – maybe even 1.5 seconds – I was three feet – maybe even 2 ft 6 in – from a wren. How tiny! How absurdly, ridiculously, impossibly tiny!
It clung there, balanced, twisted at about 45 degrees of vertical. I suspect it had been hunting for even tinier invertebrates in the weather-battered wood of the window-frame. And for that tiny length of time it was mine to rejoice in.
The cocky tail is something we humans have always rather liked. We put a wren on the reverse side of the farthing, a coin worth, let me inform younger readers, a quarter of an old penny or 1/960th of a pound. That tail seems an act of defiance, telling us that here is a small scrap of life ready to take on the entire world, and I reckon that’s what excited the coin-makers. It’s a great feathery up-yours to the forces of distruction.
Close to, the pattern on the feathers is exquisitely delineated, as if with the pen of a Chinese calligrapher, one working in sepia instead of the usual black. And I was touched by this sight: absurdly, ridiculously, impossibly touched.
Birds are so much smaller than we think. In movement, through the binoculars, they look quite substantial, but a museum specimen or a bird this close seems half the size at best. Wrens are phenomenally loud birds: even their monosyllabic calls are enormous. Their song – and on sunny mornings they will give a sudden shout of song even in winter – is a garden-filling event.
But up close you are aware of their fragility: I could hold a dozen in my cupped hands. Then, when you take in their busyness, the brightness of the eye, the jauntiness of that tail, fragility seems
to be the last thing on their minds. And it seemed to me that the wren can stand as an emblem for the entirety of the wild world: infinitely fragile, infinitely defiant, utterly concentrated on life and on making more life, and, against all the odds, determined to live forever or die in the attempt.