After a week or more of rising temperatures the snow returned to the high ground of Donegal and, briefly, to the low. The land is littered with false starts and desperation. Nests which were begun have been abandoned to the damp. A solitary bat, without the energy reserves to wait any longer, was active at dusk yesterday – putting it all on black, double or quits. I hope that there were insects on the wing higher up amongst the trees. There were none down with me.
Perhaps it is our winters which define us after all. Not our summers and our high days, as we are tempted to believe. The winter of cold days, of failed days and the repeated rebuttal of hopes. The time of holding on and the grace of our endurance.
Time holds us captive in these moments like buds ever greening but not breaking open. Not today nor the next day nor the next, stretched out beyond the limits of our vision.
Only the herons have the measure of these days. I watch them through binoculars each morning from across the valley. The earliest of all the birds here to nest, they are already hatching squabs. Eight pairs, maybe nine, in the precarious tops of a tight sitka plantation. Improbable work. Any strong wind blows them misery. The squabs fall out of bed and cannot be recovered. Away at the fishing grounds the adults must still perform their perfect statue mime though the storm jostles past them like a rush-hour crowd. They must stare clarity through the surface of the water though the ripples and the din scatter the light, the chop stirs the silt. They must become a physical embodiment of patience amongst the chaos, even as they know that the clock is ticking for chicks who grow cold and hungry. The long flight home, heavy with fish, is an into-wind agony of rollover and gust.
This morning at last, in a breathless calm, the adults who were not incubating stood on their flimsy tree-top perches without swaying and were bludgeoned silent by the joy of it. The new squabs put on their best ugly and peered at the world. I let my binoculars hang and tried to look out beyond the limits of my vision.
Image c/o Wikimedia Commons/Cat: Ardea cinerea/ Jojo & Blueshade