The bells, the bells
Saturday June 6
It was one of those evening that you think will never end, the sky never darken, the temperature never fall. So we – Eddie, Cindy, me – sat on a bench with the river in front of us and watched fluff.
The weekend pleasure boats were all parked up in front of us. A man walked past with two little dogs wearing life jackets. These had handles on them so you could fish them out of the river with your boat-hook. “They glow in the dark, too,” we were told.
Across the river, above the flood-plain a marsh harrier, male, made one of those long imperturbable glides, a confident shallow-angled descent into the reeds. And all around the fluff. The air was filled with the seeds from the willow trees, turning the air white in a warm and living snow-storm.
There is something incomparably benign about this: the unhurried confident processes of life: plenty of time and plenty of seeds to spare. And perhaps one of these seeds would one day be a 22nd century seed-spilling giants like the ones that line the river: and perhaps not. No matter. Something would grow and willow-kind would survive and proper.
So it seemed, anyway, as we sat there knowing that the longest evening of all would with us in a fortnight. The laden, fluff-filled air above the river seemed like another opportunity for the great haiku-writer I never will be. And then, to show that some places never know when to stop, the bell-ringers began their Saturday evening practice, and the air was filled with the joyous clamour along with the drifting life of the seedy fluff.
Taking up an interesting hobby
Sunday June 7
Another of those instantaneous dramas. I was in the middle of the eternal horsey chores when my eyes were drawn upward. That’s one of
the things about being a birder: your eyes get into the habit of being drawn upwards. We are all of us in the gutter but some of us are looking at the birds.
It was a giant swift – and every birder reading these words knows what’s coming next. My old friend Chris once rang me up to tell me had seen “a giant swift” and could I please tell him what it really was. And it was for once easy: a no-brainer, in short. For this is the classic description of a hobby.
Hobbies are the falcons of summer. They feed on the protein of our summer skies: dragonflies, swallows, martins and yes, even swifts are not too swift for them. Their long, slim wings make a silhouette of supreme elegance: but they are also fast, manoeuvrable and ferocious.
Here’s a rule: if you think it might be a hobby, it’s always a kestrel. But when you know it’s a hobby you’re always right. I think here’s some kind of moral point hidden in there, if only I could dig it out.
In the afternoon, Cindy, Eddie and I visited the gardens of Ditchingham Hall. Gardens are strange half-places where the wild and the tame are tangled inextricably together: an expression both of non-human wildness and human passion. For some, beauty needs order.
The bumblebees swarmed over a bed of Nepeta: as many furry bee-bums as there were purple flowerheads. Cindy resolved to plant a bed of the stuff back at our place.