Thoughts for a new year

I haven’t written anything for so long, hardly even journal entries, so it was quite a surprise today to be sitting in the car, unusually travelling in the back, and for words to come unexpectedly. I was in the back because my father in law was coming to stay and needed to be in the front with J. I was musing on how I felt at the start of this visit compared to other visits and these words came to me:

“If I let my mind stop insisting
that all will not be well,
I can feel a small sense
of peace I hear tell from others
more serene than myself”

This after I had read Mary Oliver’s powerful poem, Snow Geese

Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last!
What a task
to ask
of anything, or anyone,
yet it is ours,
and not by the century or the year, but by the hours.
One fall day I heard
above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound
I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was
a flock of snow geese, winging it
faster than the ones we usually see,
and, being the color of snow, catching the sun
so they were, in part at least, golden. I
held my breath
as we do
sometimes
to stop time
when something wonderful
has touched us
as with a match,
which is lit, and bright,
but does not hurt
in the common way,
but delightfully,
as if delight
were the most serious thing
you ever felt.
The geese
flew on,
I have never seen them again.
Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.
Maybe I won’t.
It doesn’t matter.
What matters
is that, when I saw them,
I saw them
as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.

What gorgeous gifts to receive on New Year’s Day!

Awake August – small stones

The Writing Our Way Home people  ( http://www.writingourwayhome.com)  have begun an August project where we write and share a small stone poem for each day of August.  A small stone is described as “a few words that point to a moment” and given that I have had a dry July it feels like a way back in to writing. I will post one small stone here each day through August, and take it from there…

August 1st

Trees breeze in
as rain tickles leaves
and wind pats them dry

August 2                                                     Grapes

Small green parcels
bunching up
juicy pockets of pip and pulp.
Homegrown!

August 3

A deathly hush in the doctors’ waiting room
sharply broken
by a toddler’s shrill scream
struggling with a red toy car

August 4

Spilt soil, I stand and stare,
the back dirt sinks into the carpet
as I watch.
I clear up the earth silently
surprised by my own serenity!

August 5

Small white Apple flickers
I wait impotent as updates
with new defences are added.
Being mindful of this moment
I write a small stone.

August 6

Furious flying through the garden
a sudden silence –
birds are not twittering.

A single feather floats down.

August 7

i am trying to ignore the cat, she makes sure I hear her displeasure.

August 8

Coming from the west
our man-made moon
sails across the space above
setting silently as a star
in the east

August 9

Small green eating machineimage
Stomach on legs
Camouflaged
Except for the small black dots
Discarded on my kitchen counter
Telltale signs of my basil stowaway

August 10

Pied mischief makers
pile into the garden
bouncing across the lawn, clacking
barging and strutting
intimidating pigeons and sparrows alike.

Mealworm treats entice
more strident mobsters each day,
this morning, thirteen.
Unlucky for some!

August 11

A found poem:

How Does a Caterpillar Turn into a Butterfly?

To become a butterfly, a caterpillar first digests itself.
But certain groups of cells survive,
turning the soup into eyes, wings, antennae.

The story begins with a very hungry caterpillar
hatching from an egg.
The caterpillar stuffs itself with leaves,
growing plumper and longer
One day, the caterpillar stops eating,
hangs upside down from a twig or leaf
spins itself a silky cocoon

But
How does a caterpillar rearrange itself into a butterfly?

First, the caterpillar digests itself,
enzymes dissolve all of its tissues.
If you cut open a cocoon at just the right time,
caterpillar soup would ooze out.

A group of cells known as imaginal discs
survive the digestive process.
A disc for each of the adult body parts
Some caterpillars walk around with tiny rudimentary wings
tucked inside their bodies,
though you would never know it by looking at them.

Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues
the discs use the protein-rich soup all around them
to fuel rapid cell division required to form
wings, antennae, legs, eyes,
Certain caterpillar muscles are preserved in the adult butterfly.
Moths remember what they learned
in later stages of their lives as caterpillars.

Getting a look at this metamorphosis as it happens is difficult;
disturbing a caterpillar inside its cocoon
risks botching the transformation.

A Tussah silkmoth failed to spin a cocoon
see the delicate, translucent jade wings, antennae and legs
a glimpse of what usually remains concealed.

August 12

Piles of clothing on the bed
some new, like today new,
some old and worn.
What to pack?
An enigma, quandary
and drama!

August 13

Long lunch with a lovely friend,
talk turns to sweet smelling toilet facilities
and eucalyptus.
Let’s bottle koala farts
that would do the trick!

August 14

Birds busy at the feeders;
table full of blackbirds kicking seed,
variety of tits on nuts.
And a rabbit
Where does he fit in?

August 15

Evening clouds,
shepherds delighted all across the county.

August 16image

Quiet room

cool space.
Under the stairs
a window on the world beyond
it’s hot out there!

August 17

Red juice slow dripsimage
Gin soaked raspberries
dangle
Muslin stains in its work
While I relish the results.

 

August 18

Today’s work is pulling thistles
Feels like I am pulling up my roots
Scotland is far far away

August 19

Builders’ hammering.
Nail guns sound
like shotguns.

I need to beat a retreat.

August 20

In the dying daylight I go out
in the dusk to put hedgehog food
in the bowl, the rustling wind
In the trees reminds me I am
in the moment, listening.

August 21

Sunday morning
casually read the news
a growing sense of abhorrence.
Above the line all gold medals
honour and smiles.
Below, horror, rape and terror
relegated into silver.

August 22

A box is opened today
packed in a previous life
revealing lost treasures
suddenly it is 1991
and I am marrying
for the first time

August 23

Cloud watching from the hammock
on this humid afternoon
a cheetah running
followed by an ice skate
just one…
more swirling and it turns
into a suit of armour

August 24

Green fields
speeding train
a bolt of black and white
the sheepdog bounds
chasing the carriages

August 25

Summer rain
beats on the windows
of my glass house
Summer feels like autumn
days are colder, shorter
Mist clouds
my vision

August 26

Busy days but not much present
I stop to breathe and catch the time
standing still
waiting for me to notice

August 27

The neatness of my packed suitcase
contradicts the chaos in my head.

August 28

Yesterday all about travelling,
stop, start, stop, stop
mostly stop on the M25

Overnight we have turned French
And we are stopped again
much happier this time!

August 29

Ruth must know something!

The healing power of waves
and a family rift is flowing closed
I will return from this time on the water
A sister once again

August 30

The murmuring shush of the sea
softens the burbling banter
of the biddies
as we await the ferry

August 31

Me: I went into the ladies and there was a male steward handling an orchid.

Husband: That’s a small stone right there!

Lilli

We weren’t going to get a cat we said; we liked the freedom of being able to take off when we wanted to, and at holiday times not having to think about organising care for said cat, plus we were renting in properties that were not open to pet ownership. So that, we thought, was that.

We both had beloved cats in our past lives, and left cats behind with our ex partners. I, particularly, was bereft when D and I separated and  I couldn’t take Squiggy. It felt like I had left a piece of me behind, but she had a home and was with her brother who she’d lived with all her life, so I decided it was best to leave her as a Granary cat.

Roll the clock forward four years and my mum dies. This is tragic, and difficult enough, but she had four cats that we have to re-home…

Three of these are “new” cats – well mum had them as kittens two years previously, but I didn’t know them very well as one was a mad kitten (Perky by name, perky by nature) and the other two hid under the kitchen cupboards every time I visited. And then there was Lilli.

10476459_10153900516669045_6174357684494487292_n

She had been a tenacious rescue kitten from the RSPCA. She was found on top of a garden shed with her litter mates, none of whom survived, and she was only 8 weeks old when mum brought her home on 8 June 2001. Mum had also just got a tom cat kitten called Gulliver  and as the new arrival was so small she decided to call her Lilliput, or Lilli for short. I have known Lilli a long time and she was the only one that I considered making ours, but that meant we were getting a cat!

After mum died we came back to our house for a few days between doing the initial sorting and “death run” (collecting the death certificate…registering the death… will reading…house sorting) and the funeral. While we were back home, amongst other things, I tried to consider the effect of bringing home a cat. In a funny way I knew I would end up with Lilli. While mum was alive she had up to six cats at a time, and I would berate her for her “mad cat woman” look and the fact that often the cats ran riot in what was a very chaotic house to begin with, so it really didn’t help having lots of felines and their mess to manage. Mum would be cross and then ask if we wanted one of them. I had said I would have LIlli, but mum replied she wasn’t offering me her!

When I did decide finally that I could not bring the cats from my old life as  I could neither separate my cats, not D from either cat, I told him it was OK and that J and I would find a cat that fitted here in this house. I didn’t know then how that would work, but the universe was making the space for Lilli. She had always been in a multi-cat household at mum’s, and dad said she wanted to be an only cat. Well, she got her wish, on 4th December last year she moved in with us. Two days after my mother’s funeral we loaded up the car with her in a basket, and as much cat paraphernalia as we could muster from mum’s house. We had sprayed her basket with Fellaway, which is a pheromone spray to calm the feline nerves – worked a treat, not a peep from her on the four hour journey here, the longest time she has ever been in a car. We did refer to it as drugging the cat, but that and a plug-in dispenser of Fellaway in her room here did wonders for her settling in.

She did seem to be at home very quickly,and over a couple of weeks explored every bit of the house.10885030_10153493119384045_6181903743810070078_n The wood burner in the living room soon became a firm favourite as she craved warmth, and the winter days it was lit she was always parked somewhere near. She was a bit skinny and waif like when she arrived; no teeth meant she ate slowly, and the “new kitten”, Perky, at mum’s had taken to stealing her food. We heard her growl at him while we were house clearing after the funeral –  I haven’t heard her growl once since she has been with us.

She has always been a vocal cat, and has shouted to be heard. Mum gave all her cats voices, and Lilli’s was a yelled “HELLO! I WANT ….”. Now she is an only cat her voice has grown more varied and more mellow. She will still shout, particularly when she is saying “WHERE ARE YOU!?” as she has found herself upstairs and we aren’t anywhere to be seen, but she will also churp and wurrup when we are closer. Her food noise “MMMMM…EHHH” has been received into J’s and my lexicon as the “I want food!” demand for all of us,  and her purr actually became audible after about three months – I had never heard it before.

And so we do have a cat; she is now doing more happy cat things; she rolls, she stretches out; she does more washing of herself and she does like to be fussed (on her terms of course!) She is far more sociable than I ever knew; she will walk round the garden with us, and11403461_10153961762219045_4451546741847466703_n sit in which ever room we are occupying – particularly the kitchen where she knows ham may be in the offing. She loves to perch on our knee, and will demand we sit down for her, or she makes a bee-line for the sofa when she sees an available lap. This is a revelation as I always considered her quite a grumpy cat when she lived with mum. I now think she was not happy with lots of other cats, especially as she got older, so is relishing her queen bee status with us.

And we are relishing our cat servant status again too. She dominates our morning routines with breakfast and litter trays (and possible vomit on carpets cleaning – never known such a vomiting cat!) While at 9.40pm she will move to her intercept position on the top of the stairs on the way to her bedroom and demand we put her to bed, after her supper, naturally.

It does of course mean we have another responsibility, and more planning is needed for trips and holidays, but the flip side is we have the satisfaction of providing a lovely retirement home for the old girl, and we are all enjoying her coming into her own at the grand age of fourteen and a half.

Taking care of her is an honouring of mum too. Lilli and I shared an adopted mother and both of us had our lives changed irrevocably when she died, I like that we can be together now taking our shared past with us

 

The new chapter… what happens now?

It has been an amazing year, one that is passing by so very quickly. It is even longer between posts than it was the last time I came here to drop down a few thoughts, but I haven’t been idle; since May the summer has been packed, full of leaving our Oxford home and the city itself, then there was J’s retirement, plus two excellent transition holidays consisting of three weeks in Scotland and then three weeks on the waterways of England. (These will be topics for future posts soon.) Now, as the year grows old, the trees are putting on their autumn colours and the days are growing shorter and cooler. We have lit the wood burner and the airy living space in The Glass House is warming nicely. Time for contemplation…

We have truly entered the beginning of the new chapter now; both of us living here in Shropshire and both of us not in paid employment. This is a big shift in time availability for our own thing, where routines are gone and there is no precedent to the expectations of what we do together and when. Not only do we have no customary schedule but we have a less familiar living space to operate within – there are no rules! In some ways that may be good, as there aren’t old habits that get in the way, but equally there are no structures to help shape our days. Yet.

We are only into our first week of what can be termed the “new normal”, so there is time for all this to evolve. I have a tendency to want to rush things when they are uncertain or ambiguous; I guess I am more of a control junky than J, who is much more likely to sit back and wait to see what emerges. I am hoping that a little of his patience will rub off on me.

So far this week most tasks have been things that have been put off because we were not fully moved in before we then went away or, because we were away for nearly 2 months, needs arose due to the passage of time.  Consequently we have gardening and correspondence backlogs, not to mention the dreaded change of address letters. Combine this with our name changes (we have taken both our names into common use, so we both have a name change) then we have enormous potential to confuse some admin staff at the various organisations where we are customers. Hey ho, such is life!

On the proactive side I am pleased that we have reinstated the weekly update and planning meeting that was useful when we needed to co-ordinate work diaries along with our personal calenders. This is a useful way to ensure we have a catch up at least weekly and it helps allay my lack of control fears. As part of this meeting we review the week just gone and that means we get to focus on the positive things that happened and what went well. This is something we consciously want to do and serves to remind us (me) that life is good and we are doing OK. It also helps us to look at anything we need to continue to focus on. I think this will be a great tool to help us navigate the next few weeks while we figure out what happens now.

Let the future start to unfold…

 

Merry month of May

The last months have flown by… the planning for our wedding and then a week later the completion of the house purchase have left me with no energy for writing – no head space I guess. I am here now, however, sitting at the dining table in The Glass House with the spring sun trying to break through the early morning grey cloud and I feel the urge once again to capture the moment in wiriting.

Over night it rained heavily and the noise on the glass conservatory that runs across theCIMG0454 whole of the rear of the house is loud and yet at the same time comforting. The sense I get is of being aboard a ship; water sounds are close and the house timbers creak in the wind, and while nothing sways (thankfully!) I feel a motion, a sailing along in time. This morning I can stand on the bridge balcony and appreciate the garden and beyond; it is a wonderful sight.

The weekly routine has had to change to allow J to continue to work in Oxford. I am spending more time in Shropshire alone during the week but I am relishing the time to inhabit my new home and feel how it feels to live in this place and in this space. J joins me at weekends to potter in his new shed/workshop and to do DIY – he has been a frustrated DIYer since we started renting nearly four years ago!

The house is airy and spacious with a pitched roof in the upstairs living area so it feels a little like a barn conversion, and with all the glass it is warm, very warm. We have installed thermometers and have readings of up to 85 degrees in the lounge when the temperature outside is more like 74, in the consevatory it has reached 95, no wonder the grapes on the vine are growing. The solar panels on the roof heat the water, and so far we have had the sun-heated water temperature reach over 70 degrees, in England, in May! We have started to work out how to open windows or doors to allow free flow of air through the living areas, and to create enough draft to cool it down without making such a gale that things blow away – a  delicate balance required for this and a whole new skill.

Another new skill is adapting to being J’s wife – well not so much a skill as a wonderful priviledge. It feels so right and so perfect. On the 2nd May we were joined in matrimony and when we said our vows I felt the truth of our words:

“I promise to love and to care for you, to trust you and be honest with you, to stand by you whatever the future may bring. I promise you loyalty and friendship both now and always.”

Our day was so beautiful, and we are reminiscing about it already – it’s only 3 weeks ago! While we await the professional recordings on video and film we have constantly been looking over the photos sent to us by family and friends, where everyone is smiling, talking and enjoying the day, I was stunned by how well our small group of guests got on. For me the day was a perfect blend of intimacy, fun and romance.

The ceremony was in an oak panelled room in a small country hotel and for this most precious part of the day our guests were comfortably sat on sofas. This seems to sum up the wedding; not too formal and a little different to convention.  After the celebratory lunch we continued to buck wedding trends with a non-conventional steam train trip and then an evening hostelry tour… no first dances for us! I bet it is a day we and many of our guests will long remember fondly.

And so today I am sitting and writing in my lovely Glass House and remembering my wedding day. The weather is cooler now and the morning sky has darkened; rain is on the way – however nothing can dim the bliss that is mine; this truely is a merry merry May.

 

 

 

 

Sent Packing

I find myself with one day to go before we set off on the big trip down under. Now, I have decided in the main what I want to take in the clothing department, and which suitcase I will take. But this really is only about half the job. In my past I used to make a list of everything that I was planning to take on a trip with me, often a few weeks in advance. All outer layer clothing items were listed under categorical headings: trousers; shirts;  jumpers; shoes; coats. I used to count how many pieces of underwear were required and carefully record that too. I would also list the books I wanted to take and other items such as binoculars, camera, journals. Then packing would proceed in an orderly manner according to the list.John's australia 2011 047

Today I do not have a list of the items that will end up in Australia on Sunday. I am not even sure I completely know what those items will be, I don’t  have them all in one place and I certainly don’t have them anywhere near a suitcase. To my former self this feels highly unorganised and scary, a “flying by the seat of the pants” moment to pick out a pertinent metaphor.

The previous lists I made served the purpose of tightly managing the environment around me. I wanted to be in control; keeping control of the environment gave me the illusion of being in charge of what happened around me, and this increased a feeling of safety and security within me.

I realise now that very many of my former habits have slipped away as I have become more aware of how life is free-flowing, and I don’t have control. I used to be organised and ultra tidy – I could hardly tolerate any type of disruption or unforeseen event – now I still prefer not to have unanticipated things happen, but I am less likely to freak out. I can accept a level of disorder or muddle, and if I spot that I am starting to notice or fret about it then I know it is a fair indication that my stress levels have risen.

So, the packing will happen tomorrow morning, I am not unduly concerned about the content. I am much more of the opinion now that as long as I have my tickets, passport and some money – then for everything else there is Mastercard…

Reading Matters

I am an avid reader and will often get through a book in one or two sittings. Being no good at deferring gratification I like to get to the last sentence, in fact, when I was younger and reading stories I used to read the last page first, completely undisciplined about not knowing the ending. I have managed to wean myself off that particular habit, most of the time.

In terms of reading material I go through phases, sometimes it is fiction that I want to read, and sometimes non-fiction. In the non-fiction camp I concentrate on books about psychology, philosophy or psychotherapy; reading and learning are two of my favourite Front Coveroccupations.  I read often at bed time, and so books that might be considered textbooks by others are often found on my night stand. For example, I have been rereading two books recently byFront Cover Ian Stewart and Vann Joines who write about Transactional Analysis, the psychotherapeutic approach pioneered by Eric Berne. “TA Today” and” Personality Adaptations”  are literally reference books for practitioners, and their subjects fascinate me.

Yes, I do abuse my non fiction books with highlighters and notes, but I like them to be functional, and when I reread, which I often do, highlights help me to find the core messages quickly.  As an adult I have given myself permission to relearn a great deal about books being useful – I am the child of two librarians so I had double the messages about the preciousness of books, and didn’t even bend spines until my twenties. Now I approach a book with impunity and see it more as a utility.

In terms of fiction, I will oscillate between “fiction-lite” (maybe chick lit or sometimes crime genre stories by such authors as Freya North or Janet Evanovich) and more heavy literature, which may be books considered classics or by authors renowned for good writing. Recent choices have included rereading Virginia Woolf, or Alan Bennett.

As I move into mid-life I am diversifying into darker, more subtle books. I have started to pick ones with more difficult themes that I may have shied away from when I was younger. I am always interested in relationships and how people interact, but now I may read about more complex issues such as death and grief and loss. Currently I am reading “The Grief of Others” by Leah Hager Cohen, a book about a family’s loss, grief and longing. The author takes the subject of losing a baby shortly after birth, and creates a story that is at once wounding and healing to me as a reader.

Having recently rediscovered the joys of the local library I love the freedom this gives to pick up books I may not otherwise choose, and then return them unread if they prove to be a false start. It took me a while to realise that I didn’t have to persevere, I could stop a book before I had finished. This was, again, a hangover from my youth where I was told to finish what I started. Nowadays I am establishing more fully what I like and what I don’t, and this can extend to my reading matter also.

In deciding on a book  I have often been influenced by the cover. Regularly the picture on the front, the colours and the way the jacket is set out lure me, they woo me (a booksellers’ dream, I am sure!)  Even the type face and the weight of the book can contribute to a volume’s attractiveness. I will also scan first pages, or contents, and make an intuitive decision. Although sometimes, I pick up a book simply because I know of the author, and this will be my only method of choosing.

Whenever I successfully get in to a book, whatever its subject or genre, I will lose myself in the world of character and place created by the writers, or the world of ideas presented within. Once I am absorbed then they are hard to put down and so I may be up all night with the next novel, and I need to get to the end before I am tempted to read the last page first.

The Duvet Day

Yesterday was a duvet day. It wasn’t planned, but returning to bed looked attractive at 8.30am having got up at dawn because we heard 100 geese honking noisily as they landed to breakfast in the field next to our house. It was sunny and warmer than expected standing outside the back door with binoculars studying these early morning arrivals. Even though being awake this early on Sundays is unheard of for me, I anticipated being “up and at ’em” after this, so I completed my morning ritual of making my first cup of tea. But then the clouds came over and a breeze got up, I recalled that we are moving through September and autumn is underway where warm and staying sunny is not the norm.

So, back to bed with a cup of coffee and a good book on the Kindle ( Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity – which I can recommend, if you’re interested). I still did not anticipate being in bed most of the day, but the book and the warm duvet enticed me; I fell asleep around lunch time. In the end I did not get up until about 3.30pm, only then because the tea and coffee meant I needed a bathroom stop, and my stomach was grumbling about  having missed breakfast.

To some, I know, a duvet day feels like a luxury not everyone thinks they can afford. I do not believe it is a luxury. For me it is a time of renewal, and a necessity, a time when I can fall into my own rhythm and I have no pressing concerns outside of myself.  I consider a timeout in this way, be it a duvet day or a solitary walk, a meditative sit down on a park bench or a cup of coffee in a boutique cafe as time well spent. In our busy world ‘doing’ is always given higher priority than ‘being’. In fact “just” being is one of the hardest things to achieve, let alone to justify to others. Taking time to be, to enjoy a hobby, to watch the world go by, to taste the coffee, to be present in this moment of your life is a glorious notion, and should not be resisted every time it appears.  Try it; give yourself permission to be in your own time and space. How does it feel?

 

Grey Hair

It is happening gradually. I am approaching the final years of my forties, and the hair at my temples is now starting to grow-in grey. But only in ones and twos. In the last few years I had noticed, but not recorded, that this creeping sign of aging was apparent, and I expected it to accelerate. It seems odd to me now that it has not. There are always the same number of hairs (about five or six) on either side, but they are always short and seem to disappear before they are fully “salt and peppering” my hair. Now there are also a  few wiry ones around the hairline, just at my parting. They are much lighter than my naturally brownish hair, and wave at people from their two inches of length that sticks straight up. I wonder if these new arrivals will grow longer before they disappear?

I notice that I am not at all fretful, and I had thought this, a most visible sign of aging, would concern me. I do have a general anxiety about getting older; the promise of more aches and pains, of being less alert, of having less energy, and maybe getting some difficult to deal with illness, so why are my new grey hairs not prodding this anxiety?

It appears I am proud of this badge of achieving the age I am… hmm, still uncertain as to where this response is emanating from, but it is certainly here. I am approaching this change with something akin to curiosity. I seem to be taking it in my stride, accepting the things I cannot change, which I have always found to be the hardest line to adhere to in the serenity prayer.

So, I have decided at this point that I am going to make no efforts to cover them up. I know friends who have been managing grey hairs since much earlier in their life than their late forties, and, particularly for women in our culture, this can add a layer of stress from appearance norms that are hard to resist. I am curious to see what my attitude will be to this stance as the grey hairs multiply and become more obvious.

TBC…

 

 

Bird Life

Yesterday was a lovely sunny day, just the sort you want at the end of August in this part of the world where summer is showing signs of being over. J and I decided to take a day out and go over to our local RSPB reserve for a spot of birding. For the uninitiated this is not a euphemism, we really do look at feathered birds, and in J’s case we record all sightings for his future use and possibly for posterity as well.

Little Grebe feeding chick (from http://www.thamesvalleybirds.co.uk)

The day turned out to be a wonderful mixture of walking and watching. We walked the stony footpaths alongside the fruiting hedgerows, and took the visitor trail up to the reed-screen hides. On my previous visits the waterways had been quiet, lovely to contemplate but not noteworthy to a more serious birder than I. On this visit we were pleased to see a young Little Grebe whose peeping was insistent, and we watched as its parents dived for food. As the young chick begged it was rewarded with small tidbits.

Further along the way we were graced with a glorious display by two Hobbys. These small falcons are seriously acrobatic, and as they swooped and dived for dragon flies along the reed edged water channels we watched in wonder.  Once the birds had taken their prey in the air they then bettered this aerial feat by feeding in the air, taking pecks at the insects caught in their talons. This spectacle went on for over five minutes, and neither J nor I had ever seen this activity for that long before. It was certainly a memorable moment in my birdwatching career.

Great Crested Grebe carrying chick. (www.northamptonshire.gov.uk)

This was all topped off for me by a sight I have had on my “to see” birding list  since I was about seven; a young Great Crested Grebe riding on the back of its mother. We had walked up to the furthest hide and on the way we passed a fellow spotter who told us that he had seen a grebe with some very small chicks. Very small chicks are normally around much earlier in the year, but the wet weather this spring has put back some breeding efforts so we were lucky to have them around. As J set up the telescope, I scanned across the water with my binoculars, I saw the grebe and its young but we needed the ‘scope to get more detail as they were across by the far reed bed, about 100 metres away. When I put my eye to the ‘scope I saw the sweet sight of two very tiny stripy headed chicks scrambling up their mother’s back. I squealed with absolute joy at this and watched as they snuggled into her down, disappearing out of view for a time (so much so that J didn’t see them for a while!)

So, a beautiful day and a great time spent in the outdoors.  In the local pub, over cider, we assessed our visit; we walked and watched for four hours and saw over thirty different species – I know this as J diligently recorded each one. The encounters portrayed here sum up the magic of the day for me; to have the opportunity to see beauty at first hand in the commonplace happenings of nature is a great privilege.