9 December 2015
Song after the storm
Guardian Country Diary, Wenlock Edge
by Paul Evans, first published in
The robin materialises from a point in the ground where the storm disappeared. Out of all the thrashing rain and screaming winds, the bird stands, in the conspicuous, red-breasted, defiance of the season’s greetings card pose and begins to sing.
Storm Desmond, which newspaper headlines have called the wildest of all, seems to have largely passed through, although there are still errant gusts and cat-spits of rain.
“After a storm there must be a calm,” sang Desmond Dekker. It’s not calm yet. At the coat-flapping edges of the gale we escaped the worst of the flooding and wind damage that hit the north. But we have not come out of it unscathed. Flood barriers have been erected on the river towns, and the Severn flashes across fields where swans and geese gather for the event.
In the woods an ash tree I have known for 20 years is down. I have witnessed nearly 80 seasons ripple through this tree; seen tawny owl chicks watch me from its hollow bough where their nest was; listened to chiffchaffs calling from it like the left-right of quarry workers’ boots in the limeburning days 100 years ago when this tree was already a landmark at wood’s edge.
The gale knocked the tree down across the path where rails once carried lime to iron furnaces downriver. I stand in the fox-hole beneath its upended root plate, surprised at how dry it is. I pick out a smooth fragment of limestone that has not seen the light of day in over 200 years. The roots have sheared as if the trunk were twisted off and I wonder why this of all storms was the one to see it off.
“Every question we answer leads to another question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species,” wrote Desmond Morris in The Naked Ape. Time for that may be running out.
The robin inspects the tree wreck: broken branches with black buds packed with next year’s leaves, fungal filaments that thread life through the wooden architecture, owl and bat hollows cracked open, and the raw earth where the storm disappeared. The robin’s song is bell-clear and proclamatory; he knows, as Desmond Tutu knew, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
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: