It is the third day of the third month: my birthday. It invariably snows or hails – and this year is no exception; the biting north-westerly winds rattle in across the sea bringing with them precipitous curtains of white stuff followed swiftly by sunshine that has a warmth to it, reminding me that this is the cusp of spring, even if it still feels like winter.
I look out of the window from the comfort of my warm office and see the greenfinches clinging on to the bird feeder for dear life, battling against the force of the wind – but still managing to fling out all seeds other than the sunflowers to the waiting chaffinches and sparrows below. But in the cherry tree, watching this spectacle with its gold-encircled eyes, the blackbird suddenly bursts into song – and immediately spring asserts its dominance over winter.
It’s hard to believe that in a few short weeks – always on Rob’s birthday one month from now – the swallows will arrive. The thrill of seeing the first swallow of the year is akin to hearing the first cuckoo, although that harbinger of summer is now so rare that to hear the cuckoo these days warrants an email to the local wildlife trust. But come they will – the swallows and the wheatears; the willow warblers and the flycatchers – and hopefully, the cuckoo too.
For me the year is punctuated by these gifts of nature, which excite me and inspire me to write in praise of their beauty. Today in the woods, on my walk down to the Abbey river, I see the brave swards of ransoms (wild garlic) shooting out of the cold soil and the snowdrops almost over, making way for celandines, wild daffodils, primroses and ultimately bluebells, the leaves of which are already poking out of the mulch of leaves on the woodland floor. The thrush’s repetitive, loud and brash song jolts me out of my reverie; reminds me that the nights are definitely growing shorter and that more gifts are set to follow.
The return of the bird I most long for is the swift: it emits an utterly evocative sound of summer – to me a delight to the ears, but others call them rather derogatively, ‘screamers’ as they swoop and dive high up in the sky for flies. The swifts too have become rarer – so much so that our friends in the village have made nest-boxes for them, to encourage their homecoming. When I was a child, I remember lying in bed at dusk on a warm summer evening, listening to the swifts, feeling that all was well with the world – and now when I first hear them on their return to these shores, I race outside to spot their arc of blue-black, scything through the sky. I am always incredibly happy to see them.
When I die, if I have to come back to this mortal coil, I’d like to do so as a swift or a swallow. Imagine being able to fly to Africa for the winter, and then come back to England for the summer! Us human beings think that we’re the most highly evolved species, but I’m not so sure. If we could fly, under our own steam, to the other side of the planet, we may not have created the spectre of climate change…
Springtime is full of magic: the unfurling of new life, the warming of the soil, the return of longed-for feathered friends and their gift of music. My birthday, at the beginning of this period of growth and renewal feels to me like the start of the new year – much more so than the first day of January ever does. From hereon, the light returns. Spring is springing.
Lorna Howarth is Founding Editor of The Write Factor.
Currently listening to: Strawberry Fields Forever