Monday, 23 May 2016

I feared for them; I could not turn away…


I have referred several times on these pages to Vaughan Williams’ evocative masterpiece, The Lark Ascending – and almost exclusively, I think, as performed (increasingly exquisitely and heartrendingly) by Tamsin Waley-Cohen.

It seems, though, that, as I have aged, any concrete glimpses of the bird itself have been usurped by this glorious orchestral characterization – especially those closing, solo bars: climbing, spiralling, fluttering towards the sun; and thence beyond perception….

Skylark populations have dramatically declined in recent years, more than halving since the 1980s. This decline is due to changes in agricultural practices and habitat loss. The Wildlife Trusts are working closely with farmers and landowners to promote wildlife-friendly practices to help the skylark and other farmland birds, such as leaving winter stubble and providing field margins. We are working towards a ‘Living Landscape’: a network of habitats and wildlife corridors across town and country which are good for both wildlife and people.
– Warwickshire Wildlife Trust: Skylark


When I rekindle a generic lark ascending in my mind, consequently, I am consistently taken back to Chiselbury hill‑fort (sometimes also known as Chiselbury Camp) – guarding the A30 between Salisbury and Shaftesbury – where, being the only (frequent) visitor (and thus guaranteed peaceful solitude), I was more often than not guaranteed the display of what can sometimes feel as fabled a bird – this swift passerine… – as the phoenix.


Yesterday – tracing the Centenary Way between Home Farm and Old Lodge Farm – I was therefore astonished and overjoyed to perceive that familiar song: although it took me a short while to spot the hovering culprit against the gathering storm clouds (which would later pound me with heavy globules of hard rain).

Time and I stood there still… – “Long complicated, beautiful song-flights can last for up to an hour and the birds can reach 300m before descending…” – and, despite several short parachuting dips, this hardy male showed no sign of waning, or a willingness to return to earth. Later, as I entered the woodland – before struggling up the horse-pounded, pockmarked quagmire through the tall trees towards Sugarswell Farm (and, beyond, a well-deserved flapjack and coffee at Upton House…!) – I could still hear its elevated echoes. And my day was made; my effort rewarded. All pain temporarily erased.


This, therefore, is why I walk – when, as a physical act in itself, it is absolute agony for me. I simply, repeatedly, put one foot in front of the other not only for the endorphins engendered by such exertion; but for the fortuitous euphoria Mother Nature always bestows.


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