30th March, 2010. 7 a.m. BST, 6 a.m. body-clock time. The sun has risen 20 minutes ago, but is hidden behind cloud. In fact the whole sky is overcast, a uniform silver grey. But at least it’s dry, though the ground is wet after yesterday’s rain. I head north up the concrete tramlines of the guided bus-way. Today, for the first time in months since I damaged my knees, I try a little gentle running… now and again… trotting really… 50 yards, 100 yards. A pair of Canada geese fly over at 50 feet, heading for the pond on the west side of the airfield, one conversing with the other… a slow, rhythmic kerr-onk… kerr-onk… kerr-onk, like a child idly swinging a squeaky barn door back and forth, back and forth. Then, coming straight towards me from out of the north, is a pair of pure white mute swans, elegant in flight despite their heavy, barreled bodies, their great wings soughing through the air with each downward stroke, a sound as soft as silk. They pass on without a glance. The descending cackle of a green woodpecker or eekle echoes out over the fields. I am struck by the purposefulness of birds, their pure intent, their inscrutable comings and goings. The well-known hadith of the Prophet of Islam comes to mind:
“If you really trusted in God as God should be trusted, God would sustain you as God sustains the birds – they go out in the morning hungry, and come back to rest in the evening full”
There are many interpretations. For me, now, it’s this… every day’s a new day… go out each morning, and seek what’s waiting for you… sustenance of every kind, signs, encounters, openings…. death even. But you have to be attentive to it, and open.
In a paddock down by the travellers’ mansions on the edge of Rampton, a skewbald mare, with long, dishevelled white mane and forelock, suckles a foal. The day darkens rather than lightens, and a mizzle sets in. The fields are wet underfoot, and soon my shoes are sodden. I have seen few starlings (colloquially starnels) this year, but a compact flock of some fifty is feeding in a field. They rise quickly, all together, wheeling in tight formation, and settle just as quickly, as one body. I walk on top of the high bank of New Cut hoping to see the barn owl, or the fox, that frequent these parts, but the wet is against it.
From Rampton I take the road to Cottenham. It’s eight o’clock, and the commuter traffic is almost non-stop. There is no way off the road. Barbed wire seals off fields and gates, and I am forced onto tarmac nearly all the way back to Oakington. Edging a field is a row of small scrubby trees in blossom, stars glowing white against the gloom – the earliest and indeed only wild blossom I’ve seen this year. They are myrobalans or cherry plums, Prunus cerasifera, and in the autumn I will return to collect their sharp red and yellow fruits. They were often planted as a shelter belt for orchards, and this row is the remnant of just such a one, as a few gnarled and abandoned apple-trees nearby testify. Along this stretch are one or two last remaining patches of orchard, still tended, pruned and harvested, in a district that was once full of them. From a distance, it appears that the apple-trees, incredibly, are in blossom, bathed in a pale green froth, but on closer inspection I see that each twig is covered in grey-green lichen.
It is drizzling steadily now. With no where else to go, no pavement or path, I run on the road into oncoming traffic. At Westwick, lambs and ewes are in the pasture by the brook. They’ve been out at least a week. Each lamb has been spray-painted, tagged, with a blue number. The number 18 twins are sticking close to their mother. Number 24 is lost, all by itself, and bleating. One of the number 15s is trying to eat a plastic bag. But mostly they are huddled close together under the canopy of a large tree.
It’s past nine when I get in…. a good, though uneventful, walk through the fen-edge, with a bit of running too. A shower, then breakfast, and I’m ready for work.