At the back of my house is a hedgerow. Bordered along one side by a lane leading to a few cottages, and on the other by a garage landscape, complete with tumble-down local sheds and a regular Sunday hang-out for the car enthusiast. Beyond the lane is my back garden, new-build, new-planted, slowly-but-surely starting to grow.
This hedgerow is my new commuter belt. Having moved from city to edge-of-country almost a year ago, it’s taken some time to adjust; I still relish the cockerel at dawn, the sound of swallows chittering on phone wires, the emptiness of the evenings where traffic sounds slow to an (almost) stop. But the hedgerow is almost always busy, always flickering with bird or butterfly, bug or bat.
Daytime is the realm of blue-tits, coal-tits, great-tits and wren. Industrious, courteous, fleeting. Lumbering wood-pigeons, huge in bulk, hold their heads with self-assured grandeur, only to heave and flap away at the slightest human movement. The smaller birds ignore me; happy in their space, defining themselves as very much of and within the landscape. It was theirs before it became mine, naturally.
My robin pair are visiting the garden less at the moment; I can only presume this either because they already have eggs in a nest, or they are finding better meals elsewhere. Throughout the winter, through the deluge of snow and ice that defined our east coast existence for a few weeks, the male robin kept me company. I almost said kept me sane – his red breast sung of colours forgotten under the whitewash. His voice the perfect antidote to the arrow-like wind that blew continuously for weeks.
As the light settles into evening, I watch a charm of goldfinches, one singing – or rather burbling – en route. They alight and settle, alight and settle, from one end of the hedgerow to the other. It was the same with long-tailed tits in the early autumn last year, moving along the hedge one way in the morning, and back again mid-afternoon. Stopping off for breakfast, or afternoon tea.
The resident blackbird sends out her alarm now as dusk falls. Her mate sings, full volume, outside my study window, high in the sycamore tree. This, of all birdsong, is the song from my childhood. At age 10, I had a ‘pet’ blackbird – known as Blackie – who would come when I called, ate raisins from my hand, and sung to me morning, noon and night for weeks from early spring to summer. I missed his song once the heavy August rains fell and felt sad that he had always stopped singing by the time my birthday came around each year. It was as though he pre-empted the end of the summer holidays, the signal that play was soon to be curtailed, work was to commence.
Just now, as the moon rises over the Forth in a metallic pale-blue sky, the new buds on the trees are luminescent. A vivid, life-affirming green. The blackbird’s rich, resonant song complements this colour perfectly, harmonising it. A single swallow cuts across, weaving for last-minute insects. The evening is completely, beautifully, infinitely still.
I’ll wait, just in case the bats come out.
By L.Reid, 2018
Caught in a twist of wind
The blackbird’s song curls through the evening air;
And suddenly I’m there
Hiding in our tree, back behind the brambles,
Watching the locals wander by;
Eavesdropping from on high.
Storing words, even then,
Turning them over and over
Enjoying the shape of them, their taste on my tongue
And the nuances of others’ voices.
I was hooked, transported in spider webs of language
Across time and place
To storybook lands and through distant space
All as I sat cradled in a tree
With the blackbird’s song for company.