As the grippe’s approach gathers apace, I thought it was time to escape for a walk, which in itself feels like a small act of resistance. There aren’t many people about – it is early, so it may just be the time of day, but it would normally be busier than this. A few dog walkers, all keeping their distance, and that’s it. Even the trains rattling over the railway bridge are empty. Just me and the birds then.
And it strikes me immediately that spring is most definitely here; the willow trees carry the beautiful green hue of the first leaves, seemingly floating out over the river bank, daffodils stand in vast swathes (hosts?) and the cherry blossom is out. Colour has returned to the world. The sky, however, maintains a curmudgeonly grey aspect, the layer of cloud reluctant to reveal the deep blue that I can see in tiny patches here and there.
The birds know it’s spring too – they show a blithe indifference to the present woes of mankind, and are busy building nests, fighting, courting, feeding and, best of all, singing. The hedges are full of squabbling blackbirds, but I also see goldfinches, a chaffinch, a dunnock and even a sparrow! A rare thing, seemingly, these days. And, all by himself in glorious self isolation, a wren belting out his fierce song; it reminds me of a poet (I can’t remember who) who condensed all birdsong into being either “fuck off or fuck me”. Hard to tell, so I move on.
The river bank is no less busy. A pair of wagtails, the usual ducks and geese sploshing about, and a whole gang of blackheaded gulls who are enjoying the company of a cormorant; it stands amongst them, like something ancient, hanging its wings out to dry. In the distance I can see a heron flying in, but no sign this morning of the kingfisher. Coots are making a racket over in the reeds somewhere and, across the railway line and Smelly Carpark (as the locals know it), crows are clattering about with sticks as they construct their chaotic nests.
It occurs to me that two months of human quarantine might be no bad thing for the flora and fauna of the world. A respite from the excesses and pressures that we bring – I have already seen a news story about the waters in Venice being clear for the first time in eons; it will interesting to see if there is any tangible environmental benefit from the hiatus. I walk on, past clouds of blackthorn blossom and then, thrillingly, a patch of grass festooned with dancing cowslips – I feel a surge of joy at this. Because, when all said and done, however grim the next few months might turn out to be, we will come out the other side and the world will carry on. With a sigh I turn and head for home, now under a gorgeous blue sky. Onward!