Even though I tell myself that going out into the natural world is part of my job, if I'm serious about making some kind of career (maybe that should read 'life') as a nature writer, it still feels like skiving. It's hammered into us pretty early on, isn't it, that unless what we are doing has some clear and immediate output, or is something we don't really like doing, it doesn't count as real work.
Thanks to my e-mail provider crashing yesterday I managed to supress the guilt long enough to escape for an earlier than usual walk. I returned an hour later feeling that, if I was looking for material, I hadn't been very successful - nothing on the river, no unusual encounters with wildlife, a grey, average sort of day. But in the spirit of my new role I have decided to start making notes each day listing what I have actually seen. Guess what? I saw loads. I heard amazing things. As artists are often banging on, I found the extraordinary in the everyday. This is my list.
Bird sounds. Not the cacophany of a spring morning - in some ways better for a not-so-good birder like me. I heard individual birds, well spaced apart. A robin - easy - one of the only birds still singing as opposed to calling at this time of year. Skylark flying overhead, singing just the first note of its summer song like a stuck record. Long-tailed tits, calling to each other as they moved from tree to tree: 'I'm here'; 'I'm here too'; 'I'm over here now', all in their high fluty whistles. Rooks and crows cawing to themselves as they made their arrow-straight flights across the sky, like black-suited businessmen muttering to themselves as they rush to a meeting. Skeins of greylag geese (or maybe pink-foots, I can't tell yet) yelping like husky teams mushing through the air.
I saw the first ice of autumn, stretched like cellophane around the edges of puddles and pools, sometimes suspended between short tufts of grass like torn clingfilm. Flooded meadows. The rushy hollow at the edge of the sheep field is a lake. Earlier in the year it was full of drifts of rushes, reeds and grasses in shades of ochres, yellows and russets, like one of those chic minimalist gardens they feature at Chelsea. Now it's back to being a wild, messy, marsh, the haunt of teal and mallard (though there were none there yesterday).
In fact, I could have gone on. The list, as they say, was endless. I'm sometimes teased about my propensity for list making - shopping lists, to do lists, holiday packing lists - but yesterday I think I proved that lists have their uses.