The little boy was lifted up, firm grip from large hands on his skinny torso, to a bewildering height. Slightly scared but equally excited he was able then to peer over the rim of the carefully woven collection of grasses and small twigs into a smooth cup of the nest. There shining back at him were four orbs of the most brilliant blue he had ever seen. Eggs; radiant and iridescent, the colour pierced his eyes and bore into his nine year old mind. He wanted to reach out and touch them, to feel these heaven sent jewels that until this moment had never entered his consciousness. But before he could it was over, lowered to the ground and whisked away to trudge in the adult’s footsteps to other parts of the wooded heathland, the details of which never impressed upon his memory and were lost almost as they were formed. The only thing that mattered was those dazzling, sky blue eggs, spotted lightly with deepest black, out of sight and out of reach and all the more tantalising for it. He would dream of those shining pearls, would lust after finding more, would tell his semi-interested parents and friends about them, and they, the eggs, would in turn lay the foundations for the path his life would take. Thirty seconds of boredom-easing activity by a chum’s dad spawning a lifetime of delight, exhilaration, joy and beauty. Sometime in the spring of 1965 and a young boy has had his first encounter with a wonder of the natural world.
The boy/man presses himself against the cool fragrant grass. The slightly damp earth creating a faint aroma of elemental oneness. The meadow grasses tickle his chin and gently slide over his hands as he shields his eyes against the glare of an early May sun; peering into the field to track progress of the bird. His friend is lying beside him doing the same thing, both teenagers pitting their embryonic naturalist wits against the black and white bird slowly strutting towards the point at which its nest must be concealed. But in their youth they are too eager, making sudden movements before the bird has settled. It is up and away, broad ended wings flapping urgently against the azure blue of spring. It begins to emit a nasal call, a mournful, forlorn, yet compelling sound. ‘Peewit’, ‘Pie-wipe’, other similar names: none do it justice. The sound this bird makes fills their senses, makes them happy and sad, makes them feel alive, alive because it is aimed at them. They are the predator, not intentionally meaning harm, but nonetheless the focus of the bird’s attention. For minutes there is nothing else, just a mobbing Lapwing sometimes joined by its mate, and two slim, scruffy children of the 70s painstakingly walking a field in a grid pattern to find its nest. And the boy/man does find it, he swivels his head left and right scrutinising every blade of fresh green grass until he sees something glint. Something has caught the sunlight, not dazzling him, but shining matt against the uniform sward. There sitting in a slight depression atop a loose cup of dead grasses is the prize. A Lapwing’s nest complete with a clutch of four olive eggs, liberally spotted with the most intricate and wonderful patterning of browns, golds and black. He is young, not yet in control of his emotions, he can’t keep the exuberant feelings in. He rushes over to the nest, kneels down and thumping the ground with both fists whoops with unbridled joy. No footballer scoring a winning goal can feel such unfettered delight, it bursts from him and nothing, absolutely nothing, up to this point in his life has meant anything. 3rd May 1970, the day nature transcended from just being there to being woven into the very fabric of his soul.
A little older, but still young, sitting in the dusk of an April day at the water’s edge. The echoing sounds of twilight spilling across the river; the flapping and quacking of a mallard as it goes about its ablutions, the faint barking of a farmyard dog. Behind him a few people arrive to spend the evening at the pub where he and his friend, the same friend, were now able at last to legally buy a pint of beer – it didn’t taste as good when there was no illicit activity involved: ‘the bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar’ as his pop hero sang. So they sit and watch the sky turn through shades of deep blue, to misty pinks, to deepening grey; watching the transition from what had been a long, tiring day walking the east Norfolk marshes, to black, star filled night. And a Lapwing calls, its evocative cries tumbling across the flatlands to strike an emotional chord. How can he preserve this moment, capture the essence of these few youthful minutes? He determines then to write it down, put into clumsy words how he feels. 20th April 1975 the day a young man decided to store his emotions as written words. ‘…in the darkness we could still hear lapwings ‘burbling’. We sat by the river bank until even they stopped and quietly settled for the night’
Much older now, perhaps wiser? Sitting outside, in contemplative mood, drinking the warming rays of another April morning. An April of another century. A chilly blast of seasonal breeze rustles the leaves on the hedge and animates the soft purplish petals of a magnolia. A wren belts out its strident song, a male no doubt building nests around the area and advertising for a mate. Lesser Black-backed Gulls yelp and chuckle their path overhead, a distant Songthrush pipes through the still air. The man grips his mug of tea and lifts its warm fragrance to his mouth. He has been in this house for over 30 years, has seen the plants in the garden grow, flourish and die. Has seen many changes. Yesterday he attended the funeral of a good friend, not the same friend but treasured nonetheless, and this has affected him deeply. The teary irony of being comforted by the dead man’s son, a boy he has known since he was younger even than the wide-eyed child lifted above another man’s head to peer into that jewel filled nest half a century ago, was deeply moving. The world has turned, the generations moved on, the circle of life being drawn. He sighs, takes another sip and determines to enjoy every last minute of his own life, what’s left of it, to the best of his ability. And his love of the natural world will help heal the wounds. 11th April 2017, the first day of the rest of my life.