13 January 2016
Snipe are inspectors of rainstorms
Guardian Country Diary, Wenlock Edge
by Paul Evans, first published in
The snipe are not skulking, they’re invisible. Six stand together in the rushes beside Venus Pool, six winged probes the colour of winter marshes, so extraordinarily beautiful they cannot be seen except for their eye glints.
When Henry David Thoreau looked back on his time of solitude at Walden Pond he confessed: “For many years I was the self-appointed inspector of … rainstorms and I did my duty faithfully.” Snipe are inspectors of rainstorms, rain and the journeys of rain through the land. This is the season of snipe, the glorious utopia of resurgent flood meadow they have dreamed of.
As each storm sweeps up the Edge, the rain is torn two ways: down the scarp slope into the Shienton brook flowing north to join the Severn, and southwards down the dip slope into the river Corve, entering the Teme, a tributary of the Severn. Each way has flushes and floods, sodden fields and soggy bottoms. The snipe inspect the flow of rains across the Edge watershed through each puddle, plash, ditch, runnel, drain, and backed-up soakaway, out to the rivers.
They test the ground with their feet, probe it with their beaks, sensing the mud world with minds attuned to the marshy history of northern Europe.
Perhaps the snipe in the Venus Pool rushes have flown in from Scandinavia bringing with them their Nordic names, sneep, snape, snipe, which mean a dweller in pastures and meadows.
They are the opposite of the deceit of lapwings mugging and flouncing in from flood meadows on the nearby river Severn. Compared to bugling Canada and greylag geese, and the tootling teal, pochard and shoveller ducks, the snipe inspectorate is meticulously discreet, capable of vanishing and reappearing in the twinkling of an eye.
Like a huge dark bird a shower of rain passes over the flood pools and marsh. As suddenly as it arrives it goes, opening the sky for a visionary flash of sunshine that turns trees red and gold, silvers the waters and arcs a rainbow across the land. The snipe twitch slightly, calculating the rainbow’s coordinates, ready to begin their inspection faithfully.
Paul Evans is the author of Field Notes From The Edge, Journeys Through Britain's Secret Wilderness and Herbaceous:
Field Notes From The Edge a Journey into Britain's Secret Wild...through the in-between spaces of Nature – such as strandlines,mudflats, cliff tops and caves – where one wilderness is on the verge of becoming another and all things are possible.
Herbaceous is gardening with words. It is a book of audacious botany and poetic vision which asks us to look anew at our relationship with plants and celebrates their power to nourish the human spirit. - See more at: