Signs of Spring, by Frances Jones

My walk through the woods has become significantly more important for me since the announcement came that the country was going into lockdown. The song of the blackbird, the sight of a butterfly; these and many more moments have become more precious as the freedom to move whenever and wherever is reduced. After a number of phone calls and emails trying to ascertain my next step, work-wise, I took myself off for a walk. This is my daily exercise, as defined in the government’s list of restrictions, but it serves an important purpose for my mind, too. The sight of green does a lot to keep my spirits high, and the unexpected but familiar creatures that I see whilst out of the house do, too.

This morning, I took the path that meanders alongside a brook at the back of the houses here. The water glistened, clear and bright, tumbling over the branches that had fallen there in the last storms. How long ago those seem, now! I stopped whilst a comma fluttered in front of me and came to rest on a celandine flower. It had chosen a sunny spot and bathed there several minutes. When I moved, I cast a shadow and the butterfly left its darkened flower and settled on another, still in sunshine. I moved with it and walked on,  leaving it in peace. The woodland was alive with birdsong; blue tits, great tits, chaffinches and blackbirds all sang to create a joyous chorus. I had woken up to their songs, and it wasn’t a bad way to start the day. Most mornings, the woodpigeons sit on the roof and coo, a rhythmic message that always ends on a short note. They also perch in the birch trees outside my window, looking rather too large for the delicate twigs that bear their weight. Sparrows flit from branch to branch, chattering and looking industrious. Last year I watched a greater spotted woodpecker hunt for titbits on the grass in front of the house. It was rather a treat for me to see one close up.

I turned left to follow the curve of the small lake. This area used to be a brickworks, and when the houses were built the lake was created to help minimise the risk of flooding. The trees are changing into their spring clothes now and the willows looked particularly beautiful against the deep blue sky. The delicate white of hawthorn lined my route around the water and on the banks, mallards were resting in the midday sun.

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I’m intending, during this period of restricted movement, to make as much of my time outdoors as I can. I will pay attention to the birdsong and the wildlife I see; I’ll learn to identify more birds by song, and I will try to identify those that I don’t yet know by sight. Because I can wander through the woods and enjoy it, regardless, but as Simon Barnes says in How to be a Bad Birdwatcher, the naming of things is important. It brings meaning, extra appreciation, and a sense that we are connected to that creature, bird or tree that we see. Spring has sprung here and for that, I’m thankful.

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