Paths walked for long years, Long legs, shoe-shod Or cloven, a short hop From field to fair Along these ridges Fringed with trees; Viewing points guarded Only by skylarks And hovering jackdaws Whooping on thermals
Years on, these same paths Cut across the high hills still; Close-cropped chalk lands Skylarks still chattering Their nattering call; Sentinels too The mossy finger posts And picnickers parking bays Offering tarmacked vistas Onto overgrown drove roads –
Roads no more: Bamboozled by brambles’ Blood-bringing barbs, Nipped by nettles’ Venomous vitriol, Even the boxy pupils Of the Wiltshire Horns Study no longer These routes of traverse That wane like whispers –
Memory lines lost – To plants, to ploughs To the past.
Our bedroom is in an old coach house, a solid brick wall just a stretcher wide and held together – allegedly – by pearly white lime mortar flecked with river gravel and tiny shells. Once single storey, nowadays it has two; well, one and a half really, a few extra bricks were added and the whole thing lifted up to store more hay we think. And that’s where we sleep, directly underneath the roof. Just a few layers in fact: plaster, insulation, felt and the old Staffordshire Blue tiles. And it’s lovely under there, particularly on rainy nights – like camping in a storm in fact, the sound one drop after another becoming a background brrumble of drumming, rapatapataparapatapatapatap. It helps your sleep find a rhythm and wash over you, swashing you away to slumber. There’s no chimney in this part of the house either, but even so, you’d think there was. Amorous pigeons strut their stuff along the roofline early doors, back and fro, not a soft ‘coo’ but much more insistent, urgent, voluminous. ‘COO?’ he says. ‘Coooo’ she demurs. ‘COO! COO! COO!’ says our feisty one. He’s not taking no for an answer, but she answers with action not words, and with a furious sudden wing beat, launches off, a giant’s finger riffling a giant’s ream of paper. ‘Coo.’ he purrs, forlornly. Most mornings, poor fella, but full marks for effort.
This morning though, the Crows had moved in, Tile Side. Well, I’m assuming Crows but it could be Jackdaws. One of the two for sure, because there’s loads of them round here at the moment; trees full with the chattering buggers like noisy, plumptious fruit; Spring is clearly on the way and what a delightful metallic racket they make, an all day long party seemingly. All ‘Croccroccroc’ and ‘Craw-a-craw’, blocky and chunky chatter, Germanic not Latin, these birds. Yes, definitely crows this morning, just above our heads. But what was going on? What a noise – or series of noises – first, there was the bouncing stroll of the crow, the gentle run up and then hop, hop. And the accompanying sound as their nails scrambled briefly for grip before a little ‘bop!’ sound indicated they hand momentarily landed. And the… well, what exactly? Did they have crowbars? Were they lifting our tiles and sending them hurtling down (what remained of) the roof? No, there was no doubt. They were surfing down the tiles. Sliding on their bums perhaps. And not once, not accidentally but again and again. Was this play or ritual or both: it certainly wasn’t mating, unless there are some moves that even David Attenborough is unfamiliar with. A grating but echoing ‘schusssss’ as they slid down; a low ‘crocacrocacroc’ as they danced back up and went again.
And it seems that sure enough, Crows like to go surfing and sometimes they use a tray. Can’t help but feel sorry for the try-hard pigeon though. No wonder his intended thinks he falls short.