Drab Days

Nothing more miserable than a wet kestrel - a scan from my notebook
Nothing more miserable than a wet kestrel – a scan from my notebook

The past week has been sluiced away amidst gurgling pools of rain and wild wind, and my time on the hill has been curtailed as much by college studies as early darkness and the gunshot spatter of hail on my office window. It really has been a crashing descent into winter, and the burns foam and roar beneath the black, naked alders. A week ago, there were still some spoons of copper leaf on the myrtle, but now it has all gone and the busy, scented glory of the plants has been blasted into broken ribs and clawing fingers amongst the red molinia.

The hill is churning with fieldfares in the wind, and they lurk beneath the rushes where the lovely, floury molehills have been flogged into flat pats of semolina soil. The thrushes only rise with the greatest reluctance, and then they coast for thirty yards through the rushing cold before politely settling again out of sight. Some starlings hide with them, and the sound of trilling redwings would shine at all hours of the day if the wind would dip to hear it. As I walked up the hill, a kestrel sat pressed with her breast to the dyke where she clung to a shadow of shelter. Her tail was clagged and dripping like wet plastic, and she hung her cardboard wings by her sides in misery as I approached. I called the dog in to heel and we passed within fifteen feet of her perch – her resilience was partly courage, but more likely a wholesale reluctance to be moved out into the rain. When we returned two hours later, she was still there, still sulking in the sliver of dryness where the stacked stones broke the wind.

There were some snipe on the hill and they rose from the moss like windblown leaves before the dog’s nose. I had hoped to find blackgame, but it was hardly fair to disturb them on such a poor day as the low cloud scudded over the whitening grass and the moss seemed full of standing water and the cast, disordered wreckage of cranberry leaves. The sheep are starting to take the heather now that the grass has turned – they have no choice. Heather is poor food for livestock, but it slows down the starvation process. A sheep eating only heather will surely die, but the shepherd hopes the process will be slow and that grass will come again before it is complete.

I saw a fox in the rain. It was dark and bony in the bracken, then clean and sharp against the grass. I had no rifle or camera, and then the view slid behind a fresh curtain of drumming rain.

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