Surprise

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Onto the moss in the evening, with the stir and hack of cattle around me.

Maybe you don’t remember it, but our bull fell and twisted his knee in August. I wailed with despair, but there was nothing I could do. We had to bring him in to rest, so now the calving has fallen into two halves; the cows he covered before he fell and those which he found a month later when he was fit again. The cows on the moss have another month to run before they’ll drop, and their teats are still small like fingertips. I loop around them twice a day, and they gaze at me as if my last visit was a century ago. Sometimes I kick up a hare in the myrtle, but more often there’s nothing to catch my eye but the sky and the jittery din of larks.

In turning to run my hands through the rushes, two birds rose up and flew round in a slope to the cloud. Curlews, and speaking with such affected disinterest that it was hard to ignore them. I’d obviously caught them by surprise, so why the gentle words and pretence? After all, curlews don’t like to be wrongfooted.

I took two steps towards them, then turned to find a chick by the toe of my boot. My God, I shrank at that; the curling shock of finding something that shouldn’t be found. Instant guilt, then a swell of delight. No wonder the adult birds had pretended not to care; I’d stumbled on their motherload. I saw myself in the little bird’s eye; listened to the rush of my own blood.

Perhaps there were more chicks out there. I didn’t stay to check, but I’ll cradle that gentle, blinking memory deep into the dark days of winter.

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