The following morning there’s thick mist and it is cold. Winter weather is approaching much earlier than it did last year. The sun rises through the mist, growing gradually brighter and bigger; the sky immediately above is clear, the beginning of a bright day. As the sun rises a little higher there is steam coming off the river – a real autumn scene – for the first time this year. The fish are more prolific than ever; there’s not just signs of the surface being broken here and there, but occasional splashes, or bubbles, or a big circle in the water where most of them are small. Pike, perhaps.
The third day, and the sky over to the west is a changing array of orange, red, and streaks of blue sky. It’s cold, but a reminder of the most spectacular sights of last winter. A breeze is gently blowing from the west, downstream; the flow of the river itself is very slow, but there’s a fresher feel to it with the surface of the water puckering up and the reeds rustling in the wind. Each morning from then on, it seems to get gradually darker.
Some mornings the fish are busier than others, and some mornings there are more birds about than others, all for no obvious reason. I notice a big crowd of birds that appears each morning somewhere over towards Edgarley (southwest). At first I think it’s a rookery waking up, but it seems bigger than that. Something about the way that they fly, dipping and weaving, reminds me of the starlings – though they are much bigger, and noisier; maybe the jackdaws that spend their day around the edge of town. I wonder whether the starlings will reappear before the end of the month, and look forward to them arriving.
There’s a group of three young swans, still wearing their grey signet plumage, that occasionally come foraging down the river, pecking and pulling at the waterweed. There are also some much smaller birds – I wish I knew what they are called – that live on the riverbank and sometimes come flying low over the river surface, hopping and darting about in the reeds, chirping quite close to me where I’m sitting. There’s a particularly loud sound from one of them just across the river when the swans are coming by – when they are close to the far bank the noise absolutely erupts, and when they move on it calms down.
I am half way through my last month of a year coming, every morning that I can, down to the river. I note that it has changed something in me, though I’m not very clear what it is. Awareness of the natural world is one thing, for sure; and also a sense of being more in touch with my creative self. It has been a momentous year for my health, with two visits to hospital – with the ‘Transient Ischaemic Attack’ (a minor stroke) last November, and E-coli this August/September. The TIA was followed by muscle problems, which I eventually saw as being caused by cholesterol deficiency, as a result of taking statins (eventually I just stopped taking them). The e-coli infection left me feeling very depleted, and the doctor has told me that it may take three months to get ‘back to normal’. My sense is that I am gradually coming to the surface however – I’m beginning to feel batter than I have done all year.
In the rhyne that leads between the field and the road down towards the river, often in the morning I see a heron feeding. Usually I disturb it by walking past, and off it flies. One morning there is a pair of them, but then it’s back to just one. Another morning, on my way away from the river and on my way home for breakfast, I see what I’m sure is a small group of starlings – not enough to call them a ‘murmuration’, but sufficient to have me looking forward even more to them returning in large numbers.
As the mornings get darker the full moon seems brighter, when it is there. And as it gets colder we begin to have frost – so much earlier than we did last year. One afternoon I see starlings making their way home past my house, so they are arriving now. It’s October 26th when I see them coming over in the morning for the first time, though I’m sure they were there before, I just got my timing wrong. At first I didn’t recognize the familiar sound of their approach, a bit like seawater drawing back across shingle after a wave has come in by the sea; then there they were, stretched right across the riverside landscape and moving on further upstream.
I see them a couple of times towards the end of the month, whilst other days I sit there waiting for them and they just don’t appear. Maybe I’m too early, or too late, or maybe they have taken a different route – or they are high up, above the cloud and mist. On the 31st I wait for them, especially keen to see them, but in the end I get very cold and decide to walk home disappointed. I must have been too late; on the way I see a bunch of them, lined on the telegraph wires, looking at me as if to say ‘well, where were you then?’