3 February 2016
Of wild doves and snowdrops
Guardian Country Diary, Wenlock Edge
by Paul Evans, first published in
The pigeon cocked a conspiratorial eye at the dog as we walked by. A wind ferocious enough to peel the bird from its perch and blow it away had little effect. The pigeon sat out the squall with saintly patience.
These birds are descended from rock doves, beautifully swift fliers from sea cliffs, quarry faces and derelict buildings, perfectly at home on the thinnest of edges between sanctuary and howling void. But feral pigeons divide opinion. A year or so ago a white dove like Noah’s showed up after a storm and became a familiar sight, doing the wind-up funky walk and flying in a blur of clapping.
That white dove was joined by another and there was much cooing randiness all year. Now there are several pale pigeons without leg rings – feral doves, who are fed by some but accused of vandalism by others. Voices are even being raised to get rid of them.
At the moment the wild doves seem to fit with the snowdrops and this weird season’s ancient festival. A moon glows above the ash trees on Wenlock Edge a few nights before Gŵyl Fair y Canhwyllau, Mary’s Festival of Candles, or otherwise Candlemas on 2 February.
On this day, or 1 February, and at the flicker of spring in the Welsh Marches, vigils, rent dues, the blessing of candle flames, and divinations, marked the cross-quarter day Imbolc.
Halfway between the winter solstice and vernal (spring) equinox, Imbolc, also known as Oimelc, meaning ewe’s milk (the Saxons called it Ewesmolk) was linked with lambing; it spoke of the white of milk and lambs and the Virgin’s purification. White, of doves, snowdrops and tree flowers like pussy willow and perhaps wild cherry, are also signals marking winter’s end.
Like spirits from the past the doves reoccupy stone walls of buildings retaining the imprint of Candlemas rituals. Their white plumage could make them a target for peregrines, sparrowhawks and pigeon haters, but somehow, for now, they survive in their wonderfully cheerful optimism, antidotes to a cynical gloominess brought by bad news and much rain. The dog enjoyed the doves’ flirty sense of fun, too. Now he is back home I hope the doves remain in peace.
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: