Sunday, 10 January 2010

Nature notes

The snow and freezing weather have forced birds to leave their comfort zones.  This morning a red kite headed straight for our bedroom window and swerved over our roof, presumably on the look-out for some bits of carrion.  I'm afraid s/he would be disappointed in the estate.  People tend not to leave half-eaten fish and chips around.  And as I sit here this afternoon a flock of redwings and fieldfares have taken up residence in the silver birch behind the dogs in the previous picture.  Jane had seen them in the fields when walking during the week, but this is the first time I've seen them here.  Quite what brings them here I'm not sure, unless our neighbours have rowan or some shrubs with berries - but I'd have thought they'd have stripped them by now.  (Below is Archibald Thorburn's lithograph with a fieldfare at the top and redwing below.  I think this used to be in my first bird book, The Observer's Book of Birds.)

Meanwhile in our garden as well as our regular blackbirds, collar doves and sparrows we're being visited by a robin (Might it be Romeo back?), some goldfinches, a great tit exploring the nesting box (A bit early?) and for the first time a blackcap.  For a few days Jane broke the ice in the pond so that they could get to the water to drink.  Now she's taken to putting water out for them, so that goldfish can survive under the ice.

I have mixed feelings about the snow.  It certainly transforms the landscape and is incredibly beautiful.  On Friday morning I was looking at the sun catching the crystals making them glisten with a bluish light and reflecting on the amazing fact that each flake is unique and a different shape from all the others.  A bit different from our mass production!  I wondered why.  I remember a philosophy lecture I heard in Cambridge from the brilliant Professor MacKinnon in which he talked about 'the infinite variety of creation'.  I seem to remember there's a word for it in Greek for which we don't have an exact equivalent, poikilos (ποικίλος).  We should be singing the ancient poem, known as the Song of the Three Holy Children, or the Benedicite:
'O ye Winter and Summer, bless ye the Lord: 
O ye Dews and Frosts, bless ye the Lord:
O ye Frost and Cold, bless ye the Lord:
O ye Ice and Snow, bless ye the Lord: / praise him, and magnify him for ever.'  And then there's the enormous fun that children (and adults) have in it.  So in one way I'll be sorry when it melts.  

But Jean, our MNDA group coordinator, was right too when she wrote to me: 'It has been lovely to look out on such a wonderful scene and I am grateful I haven’t had to try venturing forth, with the family taking that on. I did miss being able to go tobogganing with my student children, but they would probably say I’d be a liability whether with MND or not!! I do feel for those who live alone. It must be so difficult, trying to manage and, if carers can’t get in, the situation could become quite serious.'

Which I think puts in perspective the rather peevish interview by Sarah Montague with Hilary Benn on the Today Programme last week.  Rather unreasonably, I thought, she was berating him in the rather aggressive way she has for not foreseeing the severity of the winter and there not being enough salt and grit for the roads - and businesses were losing money etc etc.  She sometimes reminds me of Mark Antony's wife, 'shrill tongued Fulvia', when she's trying to do a Humphrys.


  1. The nicest part about the present weather is the way our neighbours have been looking in to see if there's anything we need (I nearly said "want" but wants nowadays are not the same as needs!). They see me as decrepit which in its way is rather nice. I think.

  2. Novelty is starting to wear off up here now although we did get to church this morning, there was some doubt when we saw the forecast - having missed choir practise on account of a fresh fall of snow on Friday night.

    Should be in touch by what I gather is commonly referred to as "snail mail" these days, personally I am still a great advocate - I still have great faith in the Royal Mail even if we rely more and more on modern technology in that direction too!

    I do not despite what Christine might think have great skill on the computer - practise in my case does not make perfect!

    Best wishes,


  3. You, decrepit, Brian? I don't think so. Distinguished, more like.

    I must say, Rob, there is something extremely satisfying in a personal letter landing through one's letter-box. Jane and her mother have exchanged hand-written letters every week since she left home!