My notes from the trip in May 2012 are scribbled onto orange sugar paper, borrowed from the kids drawing gear.
The cheeping tree
From a hole in the base of a birch tree trunk, about 4 inches wide and 8 inches high, tiny trilling cheeps are heard. Parent birds are coal tits. Industrious.
Hours later, someone has removed the piece of bark covering the inside of the hole. 8-10 tiny coal tit chicks are revealed in a perfectly circular 3 inch nest. Gaping mouths, only six or seven days old. I worry the nest could be predated so easily now.
I hesitate before showing my daughter. Then I realise I am 34 and I have never seen such a thing – at 4 ½ this could change how she sees birds for life. So I take her by the hand and lead her down the path to the nest. She is stunned into silence. A deep intake of breath, and a whisper “Mummy, there’s little chicks, lots of them!” I let her watch for a minute or so before I notice the parent bird, hopping nervously from one branch to another in the tree next to us. “Time to go, the mummy wants to feed them now,” I say. I point out the smart black and white headed bird which dashes to the nest as soon as we’re a few feet away. “Pretty mummy bird,” she says.
Ferns unfurl in the sun next to our tent. Slowly, carefully, they tilt themselves towards the sunshine. Almost open, their tops are shaped like sea horses’ heads rather than the tightly curled ammonites they were when we arrived.
Blackbirds, wrens, robins’ songs fill the space, and catch my youngest daughter’s attention. “Bird!” she states, tipping her head to one side and listening with a focused, intent look on her face. “Bird!” At 20 months old, she tries to imitate the sounds of the birdsong, humming and clicking and smiling to herself.
Owls hoot from 11pm onwards, once it’s nearly dark. The nearly dark is all we see in Scotland from May to July, and the sky is never black throughout the spring and summer months. One owl is definitely a tawny – the other I cannot place until I return home to my computer. Barn owls. Loud, distinct, single note screech that sounds alarmingly eerie when the owl is in the tree above your tent. My daughters sleep through it, my husband and I listen, waiting for the next stab of sound in the calm silence of the woods. I wish now I had got up to see if I could see the owl in the half-light. But then, truth be told, the sound in itself was so powerful and strange that I didn’t want to know at the time who or what was causing it.
Treecreepers weave up the birch trees, picking their way over peeling bark. Investigating every nook and cranny, probing and searching.
Chaffinches are bold, clearing up after the girls at snack times. “Cheeky chaffinch,” call the girls in delight each time.
A glossy black beetle like a full stop on the ground. My eldest whirls to a halt, points, and squeaks – a beastie, mummy!
Woodmouse hides in the grasses, nervously twitching, wondering if I have spotted her. A wren bustles in the braken, tail high, dipping and hopping, inspecting the neighbourhood.
Purple flowers stand tall and straight like feather dusters, or soldiers on sentry duty in the long new green grasses. Bumblebees vibrate the undergrowth. My youngest is alarmed by them. “BEE!” is shortly followed by bottom lip trembling and calls for mummy or daddy, whoever is nearest.
A little one’s story: “In the spring and the summer the sun and the moon get to cuddle each other. Because the moon is the daddy and the sun is the mummy, and they both come out in the daytime to see each other.” I don’t have the heart to tell her the myths would reverse the mummy and daddy in this little tale!
One lad to another: “I’ll be stopping in the den for ye!” A flashback to my own childhood, dens built of brambles and branches. I’m inside looking out, awaiting friend or foe, alert to every sound, every snap of a twig. What happens to those heightened senses as you get older?
Green stars of moss in velvet cushions. Birch bark like graphite etchings.
The girls and I plot to build fairy houses, then get distracted by other games in between the trees, swinging on rope swings, football skittering over the grass in the evening light.
Pictures in woodsmoke, toasted marshmallows.
Up at the pond. Water chatters under the rocks and away, lost in conversation. An old sharpened fencepost floats in the pool, like a giant’s pencil, thrown away after drawing the early summer stillness.
Fish leap in parenthesis. A pheasant crawks.
All is still, bar one birch tree which sways in its own breeze
I look up a split second too late – three interlocking circlets of ripples expand and fade in the water. A hint of fish.