Although my job is far from being a typical 9–5 office one, I am a rush-hour rail commuter. Bleary-eyed from an early start, I try to use the time well by reading a book, or watching the world rush by the window. Moments of beauty often surprise me: even a low forest of lights alongside railway sidings takes on a magical quality in the half-light. Lately I’ve been concentrating on trying not to read the news, and scanning the blurred countryside for signs of hope. They’re getting hard to find, aren’t they? January is hard enough to get through, even without a daily bombardment of exceptionally bad tidings. I’m paralyzed, stuck between wanting to stay as informed as possible so that I might figure out something positive to do and simply retreating into my own little world.
Nature is no cure-all, but that’s where I tend to go for solace. Two birds in particular have been appearing faithfully on my journeys—one in the morning, one in the evening—gracing the day with a much-needed touch of wildness. First, a herring gull. A magnificent full-adult specimen see-sawing in a wide arc over the bus stops, showing off the length of its pale grey wings. It carries with it a sense of adventure and a whiff of salt spray, for such a bird might also be seen patrolling a windswept fishing port on the North Sea coast.
At dusk a blackbird claims the town square as his own. In a few short notes all of spring comes pouring out, and I can feel it trying to break. Leafburst and catkins, crocuses and snowdrops, daffodils, lambs in the fields, more and more birds joining the chorus. Chattering passers-by and the low growl of buses and taxis fade into the background, and cease to matter.
We did finally see off January yesterday. The weather on the first day of February was mild and the dampness of the air smelled somehow sweeter. Insects could feel it, breaking cover into the sunlight, wings a frenzied blur. Black-headed gulls rode the breeze for the sheer hell of it, as far as we could make out. The blackbird abandoned a loftier perch, descended to the small trees in the square, and began to sing all the more loudly. Much cold weather may remain ahead and storms both political and meteorological loom on the horizon, but in that moment the year’s promise was already fulfilled in a bird’s song. It was all that mattered.