Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer

black-backed gulls.

  • April in the Territory of Rain

    This is not really a typical month, as it has certainly not been the territory of rain. There hasn’t been any serious rain all month, and not much in March. The pond is low and I’m already watering things that I wouldn’t usually need to worry about until June. On the other hand, until last weekend, it wasn’t really cold, so we have had a beautiful month, with blossom – the cherry coming a good fortnight earlier, and the apple just opening. Daffodils and primroses weren’t battered by winds, and the wind anemones flourishing and spreading.

    The cow parsley is just beginning on the road verges, along with white dead-nettle and garlic mustard – the first time I’ve seen it here, and the bluebells are out. Soon it will be time to go to Inchmahome, where the bluebells are like a flood under the old chestnuts and oaks, and the geese will be nesting.

    Migrant birds are back, though not in large numbers yet, and the dawn chorus is pretty impressive. We had on major disappointment, in that robins made a lot of progress on a nest just below my study window, but then abandoned it. They haven’t gone far, however, as I still see them foraging.

    There have been some changes, most of them quite encouraging. Wrens chaffinches and gold-finches are about in greater numbers and there are more song-thrushes. There are more skylarks in the fields this year, but I haven’t seen any lapwings at all, nor heard a curlew. The biggest change is the lesser black-backed gull colony. The warehouse they used to nest on was demolished, and though a good number tried to nest among the rubble, they were disturbed by surveyors, and I saw no chicks at all. This year fewer gulls have come back, and only the boldest are on the site – which isn’t being developed at all yet. Some of them are on chimneys, and some of them must be on the river bank, but it seems awfully quiet without them.

    The other change is the deer. Once the sight of a deer coming down from the crags was a rare thing, but now you can see them browsing in the fields furthest from the road almost every day. As the human community begins to struggle with our social and environmental pressures, some quiet resurgence may be beginning among our neighbours. I’m taking all the hopeful signs I can get!

  • Winter Settles In

    A House for Winter
    The sky opens blue windows
    between shutters of grey cloud.
    Winter peers in.

    Brittle sunshine slants
    between skeletonised trees,
    thin relict leaves at twig tips.

    A breath of frost melts
    on the cold frame, split curls
    of seedpods glued to the glass.

    The dark glassy river is choked
    with panes of broken ice,
    curdled with falls of new snow.

    The warm pigeon-feathered hollow
    between railway and river, bubbles
    like a hearth with soft coos.

    A white snow-mist climbs
    the black walls of the hill.
    Winter settles in.

    This is the opening poem in the sequence River Calendar, and apart from the absence of blue skies and sunshine, it’s pretty much the way the territory looks just now. The temperature is climbing, and the last scraps of snow are melting down here beside the river, but there is still snow on the hills. The grass is coming through lush and startlingly green, and I’ve been checking the garden for signs of new life. The bulbs are coming through, but they don’t seem much earlier than usual in spite of the very mild December we had – there are certainly no snowdrops or daffodils out here. The witch hazel is in full flower, nearly three weeks ahead of the date I recorded for last year, and there are catkins on the hazel and birch.janwitch  Otherwise everything seems to have withstood the relentless rain pretty well, as far as I can see, though some of those herbs that don’t like to get their feet wet must be struggling. I carefully moved some of the more vulnerable ones – the lavenders, myrtle, lemon verbena and so on into the greenhouse, and they look fine. Sometimes there are mice and voles in there which give tender shoots a hard time, but this doesn’t seem to have happened so much, perhaps because food has been more accessible outside.

    This certainly seems to apply to the birds. They don’t seem nearly so interested in coming to the feeders except in very cold weather, and the wilder birds – the yellowhammers and reed buntings haven’t come at all. There are still berries left on the cotoneasters, even some rose-hips, which must be unusual for January, and I haven’t seen any grey squirrels lately. This might be because of the fox I’ve seen prowling on the river bank in the early morning; it seems to have diminished the rabbit population somewhat too.

    The birds are beginning to have other things on their minds. Starlings are getting together in the bushes across the river, chattering and whistling, and maybe thinking about moving north. They always seem to be the first to get itchy feet. There are blackbirds as well as robins singing before dawn, and the first great tits are tuning up their spring songs. Earth is not awake yet, but perhaps sleeping  less deeply.

    There will be one big change this year. The warehouse on whose flat roof  the black-backed gulls nest when they come back up-river in May is being demolished. I don’t think their neighbours will miss their noise  and disturbance – and the house-martins certainly won’t miss their nest-robbing – but I will. I like their communal gabble, their careful boundary-watching, the brown blobs of fluff that run around the roof until they grow to flying weight, the witchy screams as the parent birds incite them to take off and go fish for themselves. One of the markers of the coming and going of summer will be gone.frosty herbs

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