Ramblings of a mind elsewhere…
The fishermen are back to reclaim the canal towpath from the cyclists and lockdown walkers out for their allotted time of fresh air. The peace and tranquillity tainted by the supercharged high speed racers and parents with small children asking, ‘what’s the man with the pole doing?’
The path, often very crowded and muddy in patches has become my lifeline since I was shut in my 2ndfloor flat 10 weeks ago. Far away from my family, unable to see friends or my other half and grieving alone for mum and dad recently lost within weeks of each other. It is a strange twilight world where the odd becomes the norm and as each day blurs into the next I wonder if I’ll ever see home again; my half packed family home, waiting for our return.
The canal path is bursting with wildlife and birdsong, vibrant colours and smells from the flowering spring blooms drift across the water; carpets of gnats hover in the early morning and evening light.
I was walking back towards the town last week when a gentleman was stood on the bank staring down at the water. I stopped away from him and he pointed and said ‘the fish are dancing, can you see them?’ It took a minute or two but I eventually did and it was truly captivating.
The sunlight was dazzling as it touched the water, turning the dark cold liquid into an illuminated display of fish seemingly leaping out of the canal, their fins exposed and scales catching the light. I stood for a long time watching them, I don’t know what they were but in that moment I was spell bound. I knew my dad would have known what they were and the tears that fell were those of sadness that he is not here to ask. How can I cry over fish? I cry over everything these days but I know it’s not the fish however spectacular they might have been.
I don’t know where I am at the moment, just that I am here trying to continue with the business of living. Friends ask me if I’m ok – I tell them yes because what else am I going to say? The canal is full of nature, life and noise, insects darting across the water, butterflies moving from flower to flower and the further out I walk I am taken into countryside where the cattle and sheep replace the new build housing estates and cars. This is the world I have chosen to inhabit and for me it has saved my life.
A little caravan of geese and goslings passed me this morning and made me smile. I had never noticed before how the Canadian goose pulls its head back and forth as it propels its way forward like a puppet being pulled by a drawstring from below. It was quite hypnotic, the adults moving together in time like they were riding a waterborne tandem and the tiny goslings carried along in the slipstream between them.
The dragonfly seems to be racing beside me, skimming across the water’s edge involving aeronautical feats of high drama as it drops down and under branches only to reappear in the blink of an eye. The iridescent hue of its wings turns into a rainbow of purple and violet as the sun’s rays capture it. This magnificent predator hunts for its prey on the wing catching unsuspecting bugs and the like in its feet, before apparently tearing off their wings and devouring them whilst flying at incredible speeds. Two pairs of wings all working independently of each other allowing it to fly in any direction or simply hover over an unsuspecting insect. It has almost 360 degree vision and so can spot a potential meal from on high. It may well be like the ‘superman’ of the insect world, but to me, wandering along watching it in the sunlight, it has mystic qualities from a childhood so long ago. It is a magical creature out of a fairy story where cheeky Imps and Water Sprites live. It flew alongside me for quite some time before disappearing into the opposite bank; a last flash of blue as it turned direction and then it and its beguiling presence was gone.
A log sits bobbing on the water as 4 juvenile moorhen chicks line up looking like small children just out of the bath, hair standing on end. A patchwork of feathers completely wet through, sticking out all over the place. The once bundles of black fluff with tiny beaks so cute to watch are changing into gawky adolescents as their feathers start to appear. The chicks are desperately trying to preen themselves but sadly lacking in the coordination to do so at this moment in time; a skill to be developed later no doubt. I wonder just how long it will be before they fall in the canal again as the log continues to move up and down the more they try to preen. The mother hen watches, possibly waiting for the evitable splash.
Why do ducks turn upside down in the water? It’s quite an odd sight to see half a dozen or so tail feathers and bottoms stuck up in the air. I am stood quite still so as not to disturb them and after what seems an extraordinary length of time they suddenly flip upright and sit on the surface again. I imagine the reeds and debris far below are probably filled with tiny pieces of plankton or seeds that they can eat. I watch another smaller duck from this year’s brood dive under the water and effortlessly drift along the canal bed before resurfacing. It was as if it were walking along the bottom quite oblivious to the water that surrounded it. Once the breeding season is over the drakes will lose their brightly coloured feathers as they begin the moulting process. They lose their tail feathers and so are unable to fly making them vulnerable to predators but at the same time it does create the illusion of an all-female duck colony when they all look the same.
I think swans are such enigmatic creatures, regal in their manner, silently gliding past the noisy ducks and moorhens which seem to squeak like a child’s toy. Yesterday as I walked I watched a pair of swans turn their long elegant necks towards the towpath as if to acknowledge their presence and almost appear to bow their heads before swiftly turning back again as they continue forwards in the water.
And today I saw my first cygnet of the late spring, curled up on the canal bank its head tucked under its wing; the grey feathers on its tiny body blowing gently in the breeze as it slept in the sunshine guarded by ever watchful parents. Mute swans mate for life I’m told, forming strong emotional bonds and are very protective of their young. That was my mum and dad, together for almost 60 years and then he was gone in a heartbeat. That was the beginning of the end of my Mum’s life too. Suddenly struck by a wave of sadness as I watched the swan family I knew that I needed to carry on upstream before I became a crumpled wreck and embarrassed myself, which I seem to do a lot of at present.
Other spots to write about still
The cormorant, the heron, the frog, the young fox, the reed warbler, the tiny sedge warbler, the blue tit fledgling, rats
Other spots hoping to see
Grass snake, newts, watervole , Kingfisher