Every Night About This Time
The sun hangs between night and day on the far side of the Yare valley, now glowing rather than blazing, reduced to a blood orange, as if the effort of crossing the sky has drained it of power and the mist begins to rise above the grazing marshes, delicate semi-opaque fingers curling around slight eddies in the ether. The air is slightly fetid and oppressive, like the weight of the entire atmosphere is pressing down on this one small area.
Cantley from Buckenham Station
I make haste in the gathering gloom along the darkening lane for the hour is fast approaching. Faraway, over by the unseen river, the calls of Greylags drift eerily in my direction but my ears are tuned in to the hubbub coming from the fields to my left, beyond the railway line. I reach the level crossing by Buckenham Station. As I cross, the distant sugar beet factory at Cantley glows like a dark satanic mill, a lurid painted backdrop to what is beginning. I climb the hill and then the hedgebank.
The field is punctuated with black shapes, moving continually, and the telephone lines traversing it are heavy with yet more, like notes on a score sheet, a dark fruit. Like an orchestra tuning up, the cacophony begins to grow in volume. This is the gathering of the corvids: Rooks and Jackdaws. The gruff fell voices of the Rooks ring out. Black and shabby, with a slightly ragged outline in the dusk, their grey bills and the pale skin surrounding still visible. They look sinister, like so many black-cloaked 17th century plague doctors. Their smaller compatriots, Jackdaws, are now merely dark blurs but their sharper “Chack” calls are bright and insistent in the diminishing light.
Above, more birds vector in from all directions, all the while calling and the numbers and tumult grows. The defeated sun drops down below the horizon and the inky sky merges with a ruby red lipstick smear above the far distant trees. Suddenly, almost as one, the vast mass of birds erupts into the sky, filling the sky with their bodies, like black smuts rising from a bonfire, and a wall of sound. It is like being in the largest cinema in the world with surround sound, so loud that it could be Herne himself riding into the sky with his hell-hounds.
The birds fly the short distance to their roost in Buckenham Carrs, and after a spell of excited chatter they fall silent. It is if I had awoken from a dream but tomorrow it will happen again, and continue until the urge to procreate begins to stir and the birds disperse to their nesting sites. Come the shorter days of autumn they will return to this special place as the planet reaches this same point in its orbit and triggers the ritual again. It will continue when you and I are but distant memories.
These birds are embedded in the weft and warp of the countryside, the cycle of the seasons and folklore of Britain. Watching this spectacle I realise that I am too.
Standing in the dark, the present and the past become one, as I look into the abyss of time, back to when our lives were much more connected with the seasons and nature; stretching back through the centuries to a time of darker nights, when the stories were whispered around the glow of a fire, perhaps the only source of light save for the full moon.