Monday, 14 May 2012

Naturally tough

Yesterday has to count as one of the grimmest May days I can ever remember. The wind howled around the house like a wounded wolf, the sky was a sagging, wet army blanket, and a chill, relentless drizzle kept me indoors most of the day.

It wasn't because I was worried about getting wet, or cold. We have the wellies, the waterproofs, the attitude to get outdoors whatever the conditions. For me it was because the hard, dark weather seemed a slap in the face to the innocent young life that is appearing everywhere now - lime-fresh leaves on the birches, orange-tip butterflies flirting with the ladies smock, a deafening dawn chorus of new parents. They all seemed battered or laid low by the dreichness. At some level I think I felt that if I went out in it I would be tacitly giving my approval. I do not approve of hail in May.

Not everything was so easily cowed. As I stood at the kitchen sink I caught sight of a pair of jelly-bright goldfinches in the track behind the house. They jumped down from the old metal fence into the rough, weedy strip in the centre of the track, and began rummaging through the dandelion heads looking for the milky, half-ripe seeds they like best. It was still raining, but they seemed not to notice, concentrating instead on combing each flowerhead in turn for another tiny parcel of nourishment. They looked as if they were eating the food there and then, but they may have been taking it back for nestlings - goldfinches regurgitate food, just like penguins and cormorants.

Despite their delicate appearance, they seem feisty birds, their red, white and black striped faces reminding me of tiny, New Guinean warriors. They don't seem as nervous as many feeding birds, that constantly look about them and twitch at every leaf flick. Instead they doggedly stripped the seeds from each plant and moved on, like tea pickers on piecework. I watched them for several minutes until they suddenly lifted and fled - the golden yellow stripes of their wings a blur as they disappeared into the cherry trees. My daughter was running past - the bright blue of her waterproof a blur as she came back from collecting the eggs in the rain.

Later that evening we did venture out. Despite the continuing foul weather there were primroses and bluebells, pink purslane and stichwort in flower in the woods, willow warblers and chiffchaffs singing, jackdaws and crows riding the wind like a fairground. It seems I was the only one dismayed by the weather.

I think I need to toughen up.

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