May - "Until Our Hearts Have Learned to Sing Again"

Last week, while walking our crazy spaniel, my daughter and I watched and heard a cuckoo fly, from a small group of willow trees, up, up and away into a larger plantation of fir trees. It remained on the edge of the trees and perched precariously on the very top. A much smaller bird came out of the willows after the cuckoo and actually dived at it. The cuckoo remained in situ and kept on singing, looking only a little ruffled. The small bird - which might have been a willow warbler - kept dropping back and diving, dropping back and diving, for a very long time. Now, I'm wondering if this was the male cuckoo and he was distracting the little bird so that the female cuckoo could lay her egg in the nest. Everyone knows that cuckoos don't build their own nests and that they dump their offspring on smaller birds who work far too hard to get the baby cuckoo ready for Africa in August.

Nature has everything.



Today, in the middle of May, we had snow. Last week we had that wonderful warmth where the backyard becomes another room in the house.

On Friday we took our food and drink outdoors and wolfed down our lunch in a hurry before the cold rain started. Since then, scarves and woollens have come back out. Hopefully just for a wee while!

The poor little birds are feeding frantically just to keep warm. A geranium has perished. I shouldn't have brought it out so soon. The odd thing is that the seedlings are still coming through. Maybe they know something we don't know. The snails seem a bit bewildered and the effect of the cold is keeping them at bay.



Today, we came back from the dog walk to a warm house and a cup of tea with the final crème egg of the year (sad face for the last of the chocolate eggs) and how wonderful that was. We were cold and wet - very wet. My trousers are still drying.

My memory of May is not like this. As a child in Lincolnshire, I remember the battle with my mum to let me "go into" summer frocks. She said that no summer clothes were to be worn until May was over. The odd years when it really was too warm to go to school in May clad in winter woollies, there was generally at least one day when we wished we hadn't swapped over.

But Lincolnshire is so beautiful in May. Hawthorn blossom draped along the hedgerows, lilacs in the churchyards and wisteria dripping from the red brick cottages. This year there will definitely be no visiting before all that ravishing beauty has ended. Neither will children chatter endlessly in the playground about making dens in the hedges and down the lanes.



The cattle came out in Orkney and the birds were the major attraction for tourists visiting in May. It was all change. The winter visitors had left and the summer ones were well settled and already breeding. We're still talking about birds here! Everyone's favourite, Tammie Norrie aka the puffin, is probably laying its single egg right now. But I loved to welcome back the wheatear. Wheatears were my companions through summer - both when we lived on the West Mainland and on the East Mainland of Orkney.

Now, in Caithness, fine May mornings begin with my first cup of tea in the back yard and a full view of the garden, listening to the many bird calls, watching the babies being fed by the parent birds, seeing the wisps of mist see-sawing across the early morning garden. Sometimes I spot a tern high - so very high - above, or I am startled by an oyster catcher as it flaps noisily above the roof line. The fragrance of the earth is heady and makes me tingle with appreciation. You know when you go to a concert and they play one of your favourite pieces oh so perfectly? Well that's it!



At present, life is peculiar. Nothing is as we expected it to be in May 2020. In fact, we're just like everyone else on the planet. We're bewildered, a peedie bit scared, confused, sad for the loss of life. The thing that really bites into me though, is not what is going on in my life, but what I can't see. It is the effect of this frightening disease on those people we don't see, that really hurts. I mean those who are suffering the same bewilderment, the fear, the confusion and the sorrow but without the support I have. Worldwide, there are those who struggle to put food on the table for their families, who have no one to leave the children with while they shop, those who are struggling to make relationships work - and those who have absolutely nothing and no help from any source. Life isn't just peculiar for them. It is heart ache. It is pain.

My family and friends are keeping their chins up - because they can. We're encouraging those we know and love and they are encouraging us. I'm still able to take a walk and hear the cuckoo, I have full cupboards and grown up children who do our shopping for us and don't mind if we can't always see things their way. Okay, so they don't do as they're told anymore, but hey! -  they're pretty marvellous! We talk. We play a game - last night's was Dobble. We watch a film together - we always do, each Friday evening. We make space for each other's personal meditation and/or prayer. We are doing fine but my accounts of the wonders of this beautiful world will seem poor encouragement for those struggling. If I leave these things unrecorded, however, I am self-centred and unwilling to share.



The cloud formations and the passage of the sun in the daytime and the constellations at night are there for observing from a vast mansion and from  the highest rise flat. Birds in flight are still callers during Covid19 - just as they were last year - whether from a window or on the top of a cliff.

There is nature all around us.

When we moved to this house, in December 2009, the garden had been sanitized. The house is old and, in earlier times, had woodland behind it. Grass had been put down, edged with great swathes of pebbles over a blue tarpaulin-type liner. Two tall trees at the bottom of the garden and a small variegated holly were all that was growing - apart from the grass.

I was going to have pots and give the place colour in that way. We had just left a huge paradise of a garden but I couldn't physically manage it properly anymore so a garden which was easy to maintain was important. We were here for three months before I started plotting. I couldn't bear this sterility. I'd seen the old maps and I knew that our house once had a full garden. It would be so again - and it is. I haven't spent a fortune - in fact, one of the glorious things about the garden at 53 is the species which came up after we had moved the stones and blue sheeting - things like the many blue bells and mimulus, the hart's tongue fern and the wood sorrel.



I'm having a pond next. I miss the pond we left behind in Lincolnshire and my daughters have made themselves a pond on their allotment so I asked if they would make me a small pond for my birthday. They often send us away for a few days as birthday and anniversary gifts. That's not going to happen this year - so I asked for a pond instead. I know that frogs are in our square because I found one when I started re-shaping the garden - it made me jump - just wasn't expecting it!

Ponds are such a great addition to a garden - I'm hoping for slug and snail control!

The garden offers me a connection with the natural world. From my little wild patch, at present so jolly with dandelions and bluebells, through the wild roses, the yew tree grown from a seed, the new apple trees, already with blossom, to the winter jasmine, bamboo and lilacs. These are surrounded by beautiful flowers, mostly perennials and biennials, but I'm also looking forward to the annuals flowering - the poppies, the different varieties of sunflowers and the various nasturtiums which at present seem to have escaped the attention of the slugs and snails.

Mine is not an ordered plot. There is no military precision in the garden at number 53. The only ship-shape thing about it is that it keeps me afloat. I intend to stay that way so that I can share my small world - and I hope - desperately hope - that I can make a difference.

If you enjoy my blogs, thank you, and you may like to take a look at my new book, "Child Of The Earth" which had a virtual launch on April 13th. 

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