Never So Fair

Come a Thursday night and thoughts turn to the possibilities for getting out and about over the forthcoming weekend. Forecasts are checked, maps mental and actual are perused, plans are hatched. Last week, the local forecast for Sunday looked particularly promising and my half-baked plans centred around a Sunday morning jaunt.

On the day, I was awake fairly early, and might, I suppose, have made an early start in the car and headed off to do a bit of exploring, within the limits of what my dodgy ankle would allow. But no, after a quick internal consultation, I discovered that a local walk was unanimously favoured. In fact, ‘a local walk’ eventually became three very short excursions interspersed with brief breaks at home to rest the ankle, pick-up batteries for the camera, brew-up, eat lunch etc. All very civilized actually.

Hazel catkins

Every year, when a sunny early-spring opportunity presents itself, I like to take a photo of hazel catkins, now long and yellow and opened and presumably spreading pollen with abandon, and post the photo here. In my mind it means: the fuse of spring has been lit. But on this occasion, whilst I was taking the photo, I found that I was distracted by misplaced sea anemones, waving their tiny tentacles in search of hedgerow minnows.

Hazel flower - female

How have I taken so many catkin photos in the last few years and always missed these? In my defence, they are very small, but once I noticed one, it was like the scales had been lifted – they were everywhere. These are the Hazel’s female flowers, whilst the catkins are male flowers. Next spring expect more lamb’s-tail catkins, but also more waving red tentacles.


It wasn’t just me enjoying a taste of spring, whilst the curlews and oyster-catchers in the fields were working diligently, the smaller birds in the wood and the hedges were singing and hopping about and generally strutting their funky stuff. With no leaves on the trees this is a brilliant time to watch those birds. Over the three trips I saw robins, great tits, blue tits, marsh tits, long-tailed tits, a nuthatch, bullfinches, chaffinches, thrushes and blackbirds. Nothing out of the ordinary, but marvellous none-the-less.

Backlit beech leaf 

My first stroll took me into Eaves Wood. I’d thought: “Winter sun = backlit leaves”, but actually few opportunities presented themselves. Fortunately, there were many more things to point my camera at.


Including this crow, rather brazenly sunning itself over our neighbours chicken-coop.


My second stroll, a lollipop route up across the fields to Stanklet Lane, into Pointer Wood, along Hollins Lane to the cliff-top path, which took me back to Stankelt Lane and the path across the fields to home. A hollow in the limestone pavement in Pointer Wood seems to provide a perfect environment for primroses, which thrive there. Later in the spring there will be a stunning display, but already a few flowers are showing…

First roses 


Hazel flowers 

Male and female Hazel flowers.

Blue tit investigates nesting hole. 

I stood for a while and watched and listened to the birds. I particularly enjoyed a nuthatch edging down a branch head first, bullfinches very high in the trees, and a pair of blue tits exploring a promising hole in a tree trunk.

The third time I went out the kids tagged along. Well, there may actually have been an element of me dragging them along. But once we were out they were more than happy. They have their own agenda of course: I tinkered with our route to it, but inevitably we had to incorporate a visit to the many-limbed ‘climbing tree’ early in the walk. This time nobody fell out of it, which was a relief.

Posing in the 'climbing tree'. 

Castlebarrow was busy, with various groups assembled by the Pepper Pot enjoying the sunshine and the view. The kids had more trees to climb and a complicated game to play in which they were shape-shifters metamorphosing into myriad animal forms. I left them flapping and crawling and roaring their way around the hill and found a sheltered grassy spot, out of the niggley wind, where I could indulge in a little cloud watching.

Cloud watching 

Or to put it another way: lying down. The cloud had been building through the day. Until I lay down and observed for a while, I had it down as archetypal fluffy cumulus. Maybe it was cumulus, but on a fairly still day it moved quite quickly, rolling and tearing – fascinating to watch and decidedly not cotton wool white lumps. The sky directly overhead cleared completely and was then divided by the contrail of a transatlantic jet. I was surprised how quickly that contrail dispersed. My eyes may even have closed for a moment or two. Then I watched, high above, a large bird of prey effortlessly circling, probably a buzzard.

 Backlit birch bark

Backlit, peeling, papery birch bark.

Running in the woods 

Running in the woods.

Eaves Wood

Bare trees.

Unfurling cuckoo pint leaf

And a final photo of the day – I’d come looking for backlit leaf-litter, but much more appropriately, was presented with this glowing, unfurling cuckoo pint leaf, Arum maculatum, another symbol of early spring.

And the evenings are lengthening. Magic.


Another effect that bright fresh spring days have on me, is to send me back to the poetry of e.e. cummings, and on this occasion I found this…

The Eagle


It was one of those clear,sharp.mustless days
        That summer and man delight in.
Never had Heaven seemed quite so high,
Never had earth seemed quite so green,
Never had the world seemed quite so clean
Or sky so nigh.
        And I heard the Deity’s voice in
            The sun’s warm rays,
        And the white cloud’s intricate maze,
And the blue sky’s beautiful sheen. 

I looked to the heavens and saw him there,–
        A black speck downward drifting,
Nearer and nearer he steadily sailed,
Nearer and nearer he slid through space,
In an unending aerial race,
       This sailor who hailed
       From the Clime of the Clouds.–Ever shifting,
            On billows of air
        And the blue sky seemed never so fair,
And the rest of the world kept pace. 

On the white of his head the sun flashed bright;
        And he battled the wind with wide pinions,
Clearer and clearer the gale whistled loud,
Clearer and clearer he came into view,–
Bigger and blacker against the blue.
        Then a dragon of cloud
        Gathering all its minions
            Rushed to the fight,
        And swallowed him up in a bite;
And the sky lay empty clear through.

Long I watched.   And at last afar
        Caught sight of a speck in the vastness;
Ever smaller,ever decreasing,
Ever drifting,drifting awayInto the endless realms of day;
        Finally ceasing.
        So into Heaven’s vast fastness
           Vanished that bar
Of black,as a fluttering star
Goes out while still on its way.

So I lost him.   But I shall always see
            In my mind
The warm,yellow sun,and the ether free;
The vista’s sky,and the white cloud trailing,
        Trailing behind,–
And below the young earth’s summer-green arbors,
And on high the eagle,–sailing,sailing
        Into far skies and unknown harbors

Which, if not a perfect fit, chimed with my day sufficiently to make it glow again in retrospect.

Never So Fair