The God of small things

A break in walking and blogging due to the pressures of a family illness and several weeks of interminably grey weather saw me champing at the bit to get out of doors again. Now don’t get me wrong: I like a bit of  bad weather. I’m a fan of the Scandinavian edict that there is no such thing as the wrong weather, just the wrong clothing. But grey weather, that kind that floats an almost invisible drizzle in the air day after day just seems to sap the fun out of life. So I was delighted this morning to find a light dusting of snow on the ground when I pulled the curtains back. Light snow is an almost perfect weather condition in my book. It’s bright and cheery, with all of the reflected brightness and cleanliness of a snowfall, whilst having none of the wheel-spinning, train-delaying, sock-soaking, frost-biting coldness that a deep snowfall brings.  It allows the small child in me to engage fully, without the sombre adult in me tutting somewhere in the background. I even got to engage the four-wheel-drive setting on my car. It probably wasn’t needed, but as I specifically bought a four wheel drive vehicle after the “beast from the East” in 2018, there was a sense that I could finally turn to my wife and say “See! I told you needed it!” Man the Smug, the next evolutionary step after Homo Purchase Indecision.

This morning I went up to Barbury Castle.  It sits high up on the Wiltshire Ridgeway,  and its elevation means that it frequently gets a little more snow than we do lower down. On this day, it made the difference between the light dusting of icing sugar in my back garden, and the demented-baker-throwing-flour-around that appeared as I arrived at the Castle. I was hoping to get a photograph of a Stonechat, a small bird looks very much like a Robin: it’s a similar size, and has a similar red breast, although nowhere near as intense and deep a red as that of a Robin. I was really hoping to get a photograph of a Stonechat on something covered in snow, thinking it would make a nice image for next year’s Christmas card. Stonechats often perch on fence posts, so I went to a spot where I knew Stonechats frequently hang around which was adorned with snow-covered fence posts, and waited. And waited. The sun came out. A million dogwalkers, part of the . And then, perhaps an hour after I first arrived, a beautiful female stonechat finally turned up. In the manner of Stonechats, she hopped down to the ground to forage between the bent-over stems of bleached grasses, each accompanied by a miniature snowdrift on its leeward side, then hopped back up to the fence line. Ground, fence wire. Ground, fence wire. She diligently hopped her way along a hundred yards of fence without ever once stopping on a snowy fence post. I had also left my gloves behind in my rush this morning, so my hands were freezing and I was fed up. I I was just about to scream when a passing couple asked me if I’d seen anything good today.

“Not a …”

I stopped. It was  beautiful sunny morning. I was outside. The cold wind that was making my hands ache was also reminding that I was alive and well and able to see this day.  I had watched a bird which, while not rare or endangered, is still one that few people would recognise. There was snow on the ground, and people were out enjoying themselves. Perhaps it was time to remind myself to value the small things in life, the small pleasures that we can so easily take for granted, like health, and wildlife, and blue skies and sun shining on snow.

Half an hour later, most of the snow had gone, but my stonechat found a small puddle of it on top of a post and stood in it. A pair of red kites drifted over the escarpment, startling a hare, which lolloped off downhill at breakneck speed, disappearing into a woodland a quarter-mile away. A kestrel lofted, wings slowly beating until it dropped unseen on something small, one life exchanged for another. I met (at a very respectful distance) a friend I hadn’t seen for months. I watched an unexpected flock of linnets – now that is a rare bird – dance over me. Eventually the skies darkened, sleet started to fall,  and I turned for home, but not before I said a prayer of thanks for the God of small things, of small mercies and small successes and small kindnesses and, yes, even small birds.


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