â€œWatcha lookinâ€™ at, Fennel, there up in them trees?â€
â€œNothing much,â€ I replied. But as soon as Iâ€™d spoken the words, I knew that Iâ€™d lied. I was attempting to act cool, you see, because my friend, who had asked the question, wasnâ€™t interested in hearing my answer. He was far too eager to get to the pub in time for Happy Hour. Iâ€™d responded in a carefree way, and downplayed my rapture at glimpsing the first cuckoo of spring.
Being 18 and in love with the countryside wasnâ€™t especially good for my street-cred. I wasnâ€™t the life of any party and always preferred a dawn walk through woodland to sleeping off a hangover. So if I had pointed out the bird that had marked the arrival of spring, and commented on how its neck bulged as it called to attract a mate, my friend would have merely passed a derogatory remark. He was interested only in birds of a different type, with altogether different bulges.
Each of us has a defining point in our life that influences the person we later become. Mine was the â€˜Nothing Muchâ€™ moment. It was the time when I realised that my love of natural history was not something of which I should be ashamed. As I heard that cuckoo calling, and saw its grey-and-white barred plumage, I decided that I too should find my own voice, and call out to be heard. That was twenty years ago. Like that cuckoo (which had flown an incredible 5,000 miles from Africa) Iâ€™ve come a long way since then. Iâ€™ve written well over a million words on the subject of wildlife and country living. But itâ€™s only now that my voice is being heard. Which is why I was delighted when Emma from William Powell Country contacted me last week.
â€œIâ€™ve stumbled upon your website,â€ she said, â€œand have read some of your Fennelâ€™s Journal articles. I wonder if you might like to write a countryside diary for us?â€
â€œSounds interesting,â€ I replied, â€œwhatâ€™s involved?â€
â€œNothing much,â€ she clarified, â€œsay a thousand words each month, on a subject of your choosing.â€
Nothing much? There were those two words again.
â€œI donâ€™t do â€˜nothing muchâ€™, not any more.â€ I said. â€œIf Iâ€™m going to write about the things Iâ€™m most passionate about, then Iâ€™ll give it my all. I wonâ€™t hold back, so what youâ€™ll get is a piece of me, and an honest view of my world. How does that sound?â€
â€œSounds great!â€™ replied Emma. â€œWhen can you start?â€
Thatâ€™s how I came to be writing this, my first-ever Internet Blog (though I much prefer to call it an â€˜online articleâ€™). Talking of which, letâ€™s get down to business.
It was the anthropologist Ashley Montagu who said, â€œThe moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize usâ€. I was reminded of his words this week when, after a few weeks overseas, I returned home to the Cotswolds to see the landscape bathed in green. When Iâ€™d left home in April, the hedgerows were bare and the only flowers of spring were catkins of hazel and alder, daffodils along the lanes, and marsh marigolds shivering in ditches. The blackthorn blooms had been browned by the April snowfall and snowdrops seemed but a distant memory. The landscape was dull and uninspiring, and the soil was wet and cold. Spirits werenâ€™t high. Not surprising considering how weâ€™d endured the second wettest year on record. But whatâ€™s 52 inches of rain between friends? Weâ€™ve got waxed jackets and wellies, right? Sadly, the wet weather left a Â£1.3bn hole in the UK agricultural economy, so it was hard to be upbeat about â€˜good weather for ducksâ€™. In fact, we were allowed to be downright miserable. Needless to say, I wasnâ€™t sad to leave these shores for warmer climes. But when I returned? Wow. I had to stop and catch my breath, and take in the wonderful, sudden, and majestic arrival of spring.
I just stood outside my front door, taking in all the changes that had happened while Iâ€™d been away. The horse chestnut trees along the lane were in full leaf, the hedgerows were green and full of flower bud; sycamores were standing proud â€“ almost pompom-like â€“ covered in clusters of yellow-green flowers. Even the oak trees were coming into leaf. The rapeseed in the fields was in early flower, and tulips were erect in the borders of my garden. The roar of the weir next to my house was quieter than before, which enabled me to hear the sweet songs of blackbird, blue tit, chaffinch and wood pigeon (the latter cooing their â€œI â€“ Love â€“ You â€“ Bettyâ€ ballads). But alas, no cuckoo. Not yet. (Although theyâ€™re sure to be here by now.) I saw a house martin swoop across the sky, and knew that the swallows and swifts would soon be here. (They tend to arrive a week or two later around here.) And then, just as I was about to turn and head indoors, a fledgling song thrush flapped over the hedge and landed on my lawn. Both parents followed, and proceeded to feed it worms pulled from my rose border. The young bird chirped, happy to be free from its nest and to feel the warmth of the afternoon sun upon its feathers. Hearing and seeing this made me happy, too.
The natural history author W.H. Hudson published a book in 1909 entitled â€˜Afoot in Englandâ€™. It contains one of my all-time favourite natural history quotes, which I will share with you here. He wrote, â€œMy chief delight was in nature, and when I opened a book it was to find something about nature in it, especially some expression of the feeling produced in us by nature, which was, to me, the most important thing in lifeâ€.
With so much life in the air, and such greenery around us, we cannot help but feel more alive now that spring is here. Itâ€™s what we live for. So get outdoors and enjoy it.