13th March, 2010. 7 a.m. A dull look to the day, overcast, like beaten pewter, but mild. I go east, and work anti-clockwise around the old airfield. Instead of watching the landscape, and being alert to peripheral flutters and flurries, I try to focus on sound. This is no dawn chorus, played out earlier, just the everyday morning soundscape of the sub-rural fringe. In the foreground, of course, the usual trilling songsters – today they are blackbird, robin, great tit, chaffinch and song thrush – punctuated from afar by the strident calls of rook, and murmurings of sore-throated wood pigeon. There is a great deal more going on, only we are half-deaf to the natural sounds around us and have all but lost the skills to identify or describe them. Even the bird books struggle with inadequate onomatopoeic jibberish. How to describe now, for example, the unique, staccato, fly-by volley fired off by a gang of jackdaws, or the curious grinding noises made by roosting starlings, as if they were chewing on grit? Out in the open, I am thrilled to hear, especially at this early, sombre hour, the sustained liquid outpouring of skylarks high in the air. The great lid of cloud has been blown southward and the northern half of the sky is now clear. The day brightens. The laughing cackle of a green woodpecker (called also, in various dialects, eccle, hewhole, highhoe, laughing bird, popinjay, rain bird, yaffle, yaffil, yaffler, yaffingale, yappingale, yackel, and woodhack, many of which are clearly onomatopoeic; see eekle on Land-Words page) reaches me from far away, and at the far end of the old airfield a group of lapwings are cavorting and swooping on broad blunt wings, whistling their far-reaching, plaintive two-note calls. Out on the watery flats beyond, gulls cry. The farmyard track on the edge of Long Stanton wheezes gently with collared doves. And below all these top-notes, the near sounds and far sounds, the ones we know and the ones we don’t know, is the deep, dark, rumbling substrate of A14 traffic, several miles to the west, all day and all night, like a dull, persistent ache that once recognised refuses to go away.


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Filed under writing / rambles / landscape / nature

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