Winged

Every year a pair of herring gulls nest on the roof opposite my office.  I watch the transformation of the chicks from grey balls of fluff to birds.  I see the parents, posted at opposite ends of the roof, tirelessly watching over their babies.  The occasional ruckus as another gull or gulls get too close.  A pigeon strolls onto the roof now and again; a jackdaw and a a pied wagtail both visit to forage in the gutters.  But mostly, this roof belongs to the gulls and their offspring.

The chicks no longer have the fluff of childhood.  They are still in their juvenile feathers; still fat, necks hunched into shoulders.  But they have begun to stretch their wings, flapping as they waddle up the slope of the roof.  I have watched one of them almost take off: levitating up the slope, feet an inch off the tiles.  They have been there for weeks now, surveying what goes on above and below.   They can see trees and grass in the square, people and cars moving below, birds flying above.  From their vantage point, they can probably see the sea.  What must it be like to be awaiting flight?  To know that soon the sky will be yours and you will be part of the winged community you have watched each day.  What must it be like to feel the spread of those wings and to sense that they will soon be strong enough to lift you?

The smaller birds have disappeared now for their moult.  As usual, I didn’t spot the day it went quiet, only noticing the absence after the fact.  The sparrows that have fluttered around our street and chirped from the rooftops for months are gone.  But where the sky was filled with songbirds, it is now filled with  painted ladies.  They don’t sing (or at least not so we can hear); the sound of their wings is silent to my ears; but they fill the air with colour and motion.  It has been ten years since so many arrived.  The privet in the park is in motion with bees, wasps, hoverflies, a peacock butterfly and at least 15 painted ladies.  One of them stays overnight in our yard, tucked into a rose.  In the morning, I watch as it vibrates its wings to warm up and then it is off, up over the walls and away into the morning.

I’m starting to look outwards again.  So far, the drift of the year has been inwards, but I’m beginning to pay attention to the world once more.  Summer has begun for hundreds of children and heatwaves bring people out in states of undress.  I usually struggle with this time of year because it always seems like summer should be over by now.  I’ve already celebrated the first harvest at Lammas and I won’t be on holiday until  September.  But I’ve wished away too much of this year.

I try to capture a little of the blithe summer spirit in the pauses of the day.  Moments when I can sit under the shade of a tree and let insects flutter around me, seeking nectar from the white clover dotting the grass.  I watch a jackdaw sunbathe, flinging his wings forward like a magician then fanning them out to display the emeralds and sapphires within the black.  I watch his head droop as he goes into the sun-bathing stupor, then afterwards grooms his feathers.

Sometimes I walk down to Smiths Dock, along a new road that has recently opened.  This was once a place where ships were built and repaired until the yard finally closed in 1987.  Now prefab townhouses and new apartment blocks line the bank.  Wildflowers grow from gaps in the gabion baskets used to shore up the embankment.  The old dry docks are still there, filled with seaweed-stained water and gulls.  I hear the cry of kittiwakes.  Most nest further upriver, under the Tyne Bridge, but a few still find a spot here among the gentrified buildings.  They are the sound of the sea to me, even more than the herring gull.  But this month they will take flight and return to open ocean, not to return until next spring.

The year drifts inevitably towards autumn.  Spring and its burst of new life is long gone.  But summer too is a sky filled with new wings, soaring towards distant horizons.

Brief delights

Summer is a season of brief delights.  Tiny beings on gossamer wings cloud the air for fleeting moments.  Meadows undulate in an abrupt dazzle of colour.  Birds swoop in from their long journeys to a frenzy of feasting and breeding.  It is a season where things appear like magic, before vanishing as though they were never there.  Where do they come from – the flies and the beetles and the butterflies?  Where do they go to when their season has ended?  They appear and then they fade, leaving behind traces on the air and the memory of wings.  Summer’s long, light days can seem tantalisingly slow, and many of us remember treacly summers of our youth that were never-ending.  But summer’s delights are ephemeral and the season rarely seems to linger in the way the dark, raw days of winter do.

In the long, slow turn of the seasons, I see the pattern of a writer’s life.  A cycle of hope and despair, of tunnelling inwards to find a nugget of wisdom and reluctantly re-emerging to display it to the world.  But if the writing life is a long game, then summer is those brief, dazzling moments of success.  It is the moment when you write ‘the end‘; the competition prize or commendation; the moment when you see your words in print; the pleasing comment or review.  For most of us it isn’t a best-selling novel or Pulitzer Prize, it is a series of brief delights, that dazzle us temporarily, before we head once more into the doubt doldrums or the hard work of putting one word after another.  Sometimes these dazzling moments seem far apart, like midwinter yearning for spring.

Summer is a season of expansiveness.  A time to use the long hours of light and warmth to replenish us for the winter ahead.  In this season, I feel the hope of sending my work out into the world.  The stories jostling for a home will find one; the manuscript waiting for an agent won’t be discarded.  That hope and what it may bring sustains me as a writer, just as the memory of summer comforts me when the light is low and the cold chatters my bones.

Of course summer’s brief delights don’t appear from nowhere, and nor do those of a writer’s life.  They are the result of months, even years, of preparation.  The larvae creeping through the mud, waiting for wings.  The seed incubating in the earth, waiting for petals.  The story percolating in the mind, waiting for its words.  Their magic is that of toil and transformation.  So it is no wonder there is delight when they finally emerge.  No wonder summer has a frivolity lacking in all the other seasons.  It is a time to bask in these transient delights.   We will bid them farewell soon enough and move towards the bittersweet dark.  And as we do, perhaps we will cast a wistful look behind us and remember the dazzle of the light.

Many thanks to James Clark for recommending this post to WordPress Discover.  James is very generous in highlighting the work of other bloggers, why not pay him a visit at https://jamesclarkthenextiteration.wordpress.com

Fledging

Sometimes, the earth conspires in gracious serendipity so that you think it’s sending a message just for you.  On the week that I begin writing again I witness so many tiny wonders that it seems like a sign, dovetailing with my newly awakened inspiration.

The day after inspiration strikes, I am greeted by the first goslings of the year.  A pair of Canada Geese stand guard as their brood peck nonchalantly at the grass.  Later, they slip into the water to pirouette around the pond, the parents heads bobbing, as though pointing the right direction, a gentle honk calling back any stragglers.  On another pond, the punk orange heads of baby Coots and Moorhen chicks peeking through the reeds.  The smaller birds are harder to see at this time of year, but I can hear their ardent songs and glimpse them high in the trees.  And at the end of this enchanted week, the first of the swallow family appear: sand martins flitting around the cliffs at the coast.

Overnight, new life has appeared.  The pinks have begun to join the yellows, with an abundance of campion lining the paths.  A handful of delicate cuckoo flowers contrast with monstrous butterbur leaves.  I see my first orange-tipped butterflies and a comma feeding on the dandelions and watch cabbage whites dance together in delicate spirals.  It is blossom season, but this year I’ve been more attentive to the subtler flowers of the trees.  The flowers that we don’t always notice: the broccoli like florets of the ash and the tiny green sprays of the sycamore.  I saw my first hawthorn blossom at the rubbish dump, of all places, brightening up the wait to get rid of our clutter.

This year I’ve struggled to re-balance after the winter.  I began the season with a box of dreams sown in the dark months and an impatience to bring them to life.  Instead, I fell into a fallow period that persisted for the first quarter of the year.  Spring has been slow to come, not in the earth but in my spirit.  My creativity has gone, not into my craft, but into my home.  An extended period of nesting: weeks of wallpaper, paint, carpets and curtains.  Bags and bags of clutter divested, clearing a space for other things to come in.  But now I’m fledging the nest.  Beltane is the start of summer, the first big festival of the light half of the year.  It came and went without much ceremony.  But I was waiting, I think, for the earth to let me know it was time to give birth to my plans.

In another moment of serendipity, after writing about ruins, I have cause to visit the 7th century priory that broods over the mouth of the river.  I wander ruins overgrown by Alexander flowers, unconsciously absorbing history and landscape.  And it is the ruins that wake my creativity, insinuating themselves into the half-written second novel that has waited for attention since last year, taking it into a more satisfying direction.  So as the signs of new life flourish, I find myself in that magical space at the beginning of a creative adventure, at the point where ideas might take flight or never leave the ground.  I hope they soar.