Saturday, December 17, 2011
Cherries are an early Christmas present in the antipodes - their colour is a cheer - their sweetness something between a fruit and a perfume. Our Stella is only five years old - we have had it in the ground for three. Even the first year after a dry Spring we had cherries. Just a handful. Mark harvested that first fruit on his knees.
This year the rains have come after an absence of ten or more years. Some children have be born into this testy climate, never knowing until now a Spring downpour or Summer storm. And Winter rain? Winter what? No-one has carried umbrellas for years. No-one owns a raincoat anymore. We had a collie dog who looked a her first rain with utter amazement. Good rains have meant plump, rosy fruit and plenty. We netted the trees and still the birds got some. It is their due and hey, we are happy to share. My friend Jan looked at our little orchard - the trees each neatly under nets and called them ghost trees. To me they are upside-down skirts. To the dogs they are curious and require peeing on.
In this corner of the country cherries are the season's first stone fruit. They flag the early days of advent and the end of exams. Nothing says Summer quite like sitting on the verandah, spitting cherry pits and idling away an afternoon.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
British sports journo Simon Barnes also writes about birds. From his "How to be a Bad Birdwatcher", I learnt two cardinal (no pun intended)rules. Firstly, any small, brown, mystery sighting can be recorded as an LBJ - (little brown job. Most of my bird list could be described thus. Seeing birds on the wing means seeing them backlit. And seeing them this way means recognising a siloquette rather than colour or markings. So LBJ is a neat classification for all those thrilling but perplexing sightings. But seeing birds is more than identification don't you think? For me it's about the witness of wildness.It's proof that the world even in the cities is more than just humdrum people business.
Secondly, says Barnes, buy small bins - the rider being that they be good ones. He suggests a pair of Leicas. I noted the model, hunted them down, raised them to my eyes and felt that I was really seeing for the first time in my life. It was as though everything I had laid eyes on up to that moment had been witnessed through a fog - a pea soup, a fug, a smoke, an opacity. I trained them on the spire of a church, middle distance and picked out with exquisite clarity a clutch of sparrows - their markings, face masks, scaly legs sharp and true. Walking back to the counter I asked the price as casually as I could. The answer left a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye.
Today most of my sightings are still LBJs.
Well, it could be that our dead bird was not our bird.
A day after finding the body I notice that there is still bird activity in the olive tree. There are comings and goings and all the zen-like business of egg sitting.
A month later there is a chick. Just one - not two as I had expected. He is a mess of a bird to begin with. The feathers are spindly, rudimentary affairs of fluff and spines that do not lie flat. He looks surprised to be alive.
His mother is fattening him. He is calling and trying his stunted chicken wings.
Spring tips into Summer and he tries to fly. I will be watching him almost as closely as his mother - heart in my mouth.
He is all uncertainty and adventure.