Sensuous Spring

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Continuing our theme of Spring, we are delighted to bring you today two short pieces of new writing by two of the UK’s finest nature writers: Katharine Norbury and Miriam Darlington. The extracts were written for our crowd-sourced Spring nature diary last month.

The MARCHING – Katharine Norbury

Time has been out of joint for a while now. A glorious, warm, unseasonable January followed a warm, windy winter. Snow drops came up late and muddy; early daffodils hard behind them. Like Wordsworth, my heart with pleasure filled, and danced, although I couldn’t help feeling that Spring had jumped the gun. And then it all went back again, and we learned new words: polar vortex – fresh and unexpected – reminding us that in the north the ice was melting, the climate on the move.

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On the day of the Equinox I crossed the Pedley Street Bridge – one of the magical portals in the East End of London – and found myself in the Nomadic Community Gardens. And for the first time everything felt right. Seeded vegetables from last autumn protruded from flowerbeds engineered from wooden packing crates. Bundles of narcissi announced a second Spring. And blossom formed a canopy of goodness.

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I had always wanted to go to Japan to witness the arrival of the cherry blossom, sakura, as waves of flowers ripen cross the country. Yet in this curious double spring of 2019, the blossom has come to London. And it is the most abundant, fluffy, delicate yet profuse blossoming I have ever seen. Cherry blossom, apple blossom, spritely imported mimosa, damson, pear. A few more weeks and horse chestnuts will put out improbable candelabra. Time may be out of joint. But this strange disjointed London spring is extraordinary to behold.

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(Photos by Katharine Norbury)

Spring Equinox 2019: Walking the dog on Tor Hill, Wells, Somerset – Miriam Darlington

My dog seems to know the way even though we’ve never been here before. He flows over the fat-man’s-squeeze and silks into the coppiced hazel woods. Dotted around are ash, sweet chestnut and spindly oaks. It’s been a long day travelling, but here on the side of this homely hill on the edge of the city of Wells, on this high limestone outcrop, the air is mad with birdsong. Wrens. Robins, Dunnocks, Warblers and at last that herald, the aptly named Chiffchaff, ticking its tune from the highest twigs. On the ground, wild garlic is a choppy foam of green through the dark-wet mud. Soon a gauze of aromatic white will bloom into the warming air. It’s almost here, pungent and mouth-watering. There will be bluebells too. Their slender spikes are scattered in the leaf-light, and sprouting here and there already some blue fronds are beginning to dangle, showing an enticing hint of purply-blue. Walks at this time of the year can feel full of promise. Warmed over the bedrock and earth, the air is fresh with mulch and new growth.

As the dusk falls I go out into it again, and there is the familiar, comforting hoot and scratchy return of a pair of Tawny Owls. Their duet feels like a hinge moment, pivoting the disappeared day with the crepuscular mystery of hidden things to come. They are nesting high up and invisible in a cleft between the boughs of the ivy-clad tree. I walk closer to locate the call of the female, and the male flies in, a shadow amongst many shadows. He warbles a soft song as if to say to his mate ‘I am here for you.’ When I follow the twining path up, up and the light has faded my hearing takes precedence. As the hooting rings out, the birdsong that had increased for a moment, with nothing to do now, falls quiet.

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(Photo of Glastonbury Tor, Somerset, England by c.art, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)

The path exits the woodland edge and over an old stone wall covered in moss and liverworts, it crosses swathes of delicate leaves and pale petals. The wood anemones are in bloom. White violets. Periwinkles. Young stinging nettles have just come into flower. Connectedness. I’m experiencing it through the nose, the ears, the eyes, the heart. The evening thrills through the woods, and through the twigs and framed by them, the medieval contours of Wells Cathedral are stark against a crepuscular sky.

The steam trickles, catching the last of the light. I love the way water flows over limestone. Down through its rain-scoured fissures and runnels it fills spaces, even entering caves nobody has ever seen. You can only sense them, seamed with the taste of iron. Nobody thinks of it, but when you do it’s a kind of vertigo that rises from the soles of the feet, and before you know it, you can imagine the watery, dripping under-land. It makes everything you see feel newborn, sparkling.

I pick some Blackthorn flowers to take home; we’ll watch the petals scatter and drop, the new leaves emerge. Once the bees have done their work, in the autumn all along the stream and field margins there will be silvery-coated sloes to gather. In the distance, the lines of Glastonbury Tor with its empty church tower stand out against the Avalon marshes. The memory of murmuring starlings over a million reeds fades and diminishes with the last of the light. ‘There is no part of this world that isn’t looking at you,’ the poet Rainer Maria Rilke said. ‘You must change your life.’

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(Photo by Katharine Norbury)

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