Monday, 26 November 2012

Halcyon Days

   The original halcyon days, according to Greek myth were seven storm-free days around midwinter rather than any perfect summer's day. This was when Alcyone in the form of a kingfisher was able to nest on the beach in calm weather granted by the gods. It seems that the seven halcyon days were consecutive rather than sporadic as they are at the moment. Yesterday we took advantage of the break in the weather to walk a couple of miles up the towpath to collect our laundry. We stopped to watch a kingfisher expertly catching small silvery fish, flipping them in his beak and swallowing head first, so that their scales and fins lay flat. A family out for a sunday stroll stopped to see what we were looking at so intently. "Kingfisher!" we said, pointing across the canal. The kingfisher fluffed out his feathers and prepared for another dive, delighting his growing audience with another catch. A man rushed up with a camera, "what are we looking at ?" "Kingfisher!" we all replied in unison. The kingfisher spotted the camera and was off in a blurr of electric blue.

I remember a conversation I had with a poet friend, about how, given any kind of experience, poets usually have written a poem about it. She had a poem about not seeing otters. I had one about not seeing kingfishers. But that was a few years ago, and these days it is more usual to see one than not. Here, the canal and the river run parrallel to each other, and the kingfishers and herons inhabit and fish both. Now the trees are stripped bare, they are much easier to spot but each sighting still has an element of magic about it, a few precious moments of wonder. A special kingfisher moment happened a couple of months ago, I was sitting at the front of the boat, writing about kingfishers. I glanced up just as one landed on the prow, inches away. I held my breath as we regarded each other. It was just a few seconds, but long enough for me to take the full range of colours in this one small bird, the patterning of tiny black and white feathers around the head. And that eye! So big, dark and deep. I still don't know how to write about such encounters with wildlife, without sounding sentimental. All I can say for now is that such moments are real gifts and I hope my friend gets to write a poem about seeing otters, just as I can now write about seeing kingfishers.