Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Cruellest Month?

T S Eliot's 'cruellest month' is certainly doing its best to live up to that description - after a balmy March, torrential rain and chilly winds have beset us for weeks now. But nature continues its oft-repeated patterns and spring is well underway, with the fields and lanes increasingly verdant. This year I have been struck by the profusion of dead nettles (Lamium purpureum and alba). These are easily overlooked, although were probably the first wildflowers I learnt due to the crucial difference from their stinging counterparts, and their little nectar sweetness that as children we would sup. The bumblebees clearly enjoy their nectar load as well, as early flowers when few other options present themselves. As ever, I am not sure whether it is a good year for the species, or whether I just happen to have noticed them more this year...

The other wonderful sign of spring's progress over the weekend was the returning martins and swallows. I saw a solitary House Martin last Thursday (19th) and then the first swallow this morning (22nd), followed by several others resting on wires, and recouping their strength feeding on insects after their huge migration. As ever I think of Owen Sheers's delightful lines that 'the swallows are italic again'. This was slightly later than the first swallow I saw last year (16th April), maybe an actual delay due to the unsettled weather or again down to my observation. 

Either way, there was a slight desperation in my scanning the skies over the last few days (where are they? Why aren't I seeing them?) followed by a palpable relief and joy when their familiar sky-flit appeared again as if they had always been there, how could I have doubted them? Ted Hughes describes the sight of returning swifts proving that 'the globe's still working'. For me that thought chimes with another, that the sight of these birds connects us physically to the south, their migration suggesting a notional line on the globe linking our little patch of south Norfolk with sub-Saharan Africa, which I find humbling and strangely reassuring.

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