July 15th, 2010. A day of wind, from start to finish, the windiest day this year. Clouds pour in from the west. Hats and caps fly, telephone wires thrum, big trees bend and bow alarmingly, roaring with pleasure. Jackdaws rush into the sky to ride the air-waves just for the hell of it, like surfers when the sea is up. Three black-headed gulls, the first I’ve seen for months round here, fly into the face of the wind, swooping low, tacking this way and that. It rained during the night – Oakington Brook carries water where it was dry a few days ago, and the main stream, Beck Brook, is up and flowing again. It is remarkable how quickly these little watercourses rise and fall during the year.
Spires of pink rosebay willowherb and bright yellow ragwort colour the corner of a field. The first thistles are over, the last of their down being dislodged by the breeze. A black cat, with white bib and front paws, incongruous in the scrub, freezes on seeing me, eyes widening. She crouches, slowly, lowering herself into the earth. We stare at each other, locked in the moment, until I move forward. In her own village territory or domestic setting she would probably ignore me, but here, out in the countryside, I am something to reckon with, to fear, and to wonder at. I often come across domestic cats on my forays, quarter of a mile, half a mile even, from the nearest habitation. I am always glad to see them. We have much in common – both interlopers, trespassers, wanderers from home, stalkers and hunters, seekers of the veedon fleece. They always seem surprised to see me, embarrassed even, as if I have caught them with their pants down, unmasked, exposing their truer, darker, wilder selves.
I disturb a heron in the sheep pasture below Westwick House. Its big wings unfold like umbrellas and fill with wind. It doesn’t glide far before settling again, easing down on its long, springy legs. It straightens up and stands as still as a post for ten minutes or more. From one hundred yards, it is a bare, dead stump in the ground – grey folded wings and back like fissured bark; the long, pale, serpentine neck like a bleached, twisted branch. I can just make out the black crest sweeping back from its yellow eye, watching me askance. On the brook, three mallard paddle down the runnel between the water-weeds. They are fully-grown but lack the markings of the male or the female so are probably juveniles, survivors from one of the many little flotillas of fluff I saw earlier this year. As I peer beneath the bridge at Westwick to try and catch a glimpse of the elusive pike, two dazzling blue bullets flash past me under the bridge, one behind the other, and disappear downstream. Kingfishers again! Three days ago I saw one for the first time ever in this district. Now two more, on the other side of the village, so probably not the same as the first. I couldn’t have missed them before – not in six months of watching and waiting. Surely not. Yet they are supposed to be more or less sedentary.