IT HAS been a very long, dark, wet winter. And I have spent many hours gazing out of my kitchen window, watching the endless rain roll down, and searching irritably for signs of spring. In the past couple of weeks, those signs are finally there. Tiny narcissus, just three of them, nodding their heads by the garden hedge. Crops of snowdrops, dripping their white gladness over the dank, scruffy borders. And the rosemary, one of my favourite herbs, in a rare ray of sunshine, in glorious bloom…Blue star flowers on shiny green branches, needles of pungent scent filling my greedy fingers with vigour and admonishment, every time I rub my hand against them, when I go out to feed the birds. Get back in the garden! it hisses, silently. What’s your excuse? Time to get on with it. Things to do.
The blackbirds are busy too, bouncing around the lawn in search of seeds and apples, quarrelling wildly with each other, and hanging off the bird feeders with perilous abandon. Not a rare bird, but a beauty. With its jet black plumage and canary yellow beak. It catches the attention of singers and poets, and I can understand why. Of all the birds, it seems to speak – or sing – of the spirit. And I always feel happy when a blackbird comes into view…Here’s Wallace Stevens, on ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’:
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
There was a moment in my life, a couple of summers ago, when panic would take hold of me in the early hours, just before dawn. There was some good reason – it had been a difficult year. But there was unconscious chaos, too. No idea why. No words. But there was one thing that calmed me, and calms me still, as I remember it: a solitary blackbird, calmly bursting into song, in the moment just before sunrise, in the quiet before the cacophony of the full Dawn Chorus. I came to think that the bird was singing just for me, to lull me back to sleep, to coax me into the morning, and maybe he was, who knows? But it was the sweetest sound I have ever heard and I shall always be grateful… Just as I am grateful now, to those sturdy flowers, pinging with colour and vitality, just a few steps outside my back door. Entirely for our delight. Heralding the spring.