The timeless beauty of nature’s rhythms

Outdoor Living

GRISLY EVIDENCE The song thrush’s captivating song fills our evenings with music, while their taste for snails fills gardeners’ hearts with joy. 

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

My clock has stopped.
I knew something was amiss even when I gave it the usual bleary-eyed, semi-conscious early morning glance. 8:03 it said, as if the last thing it could do was to lie, and outside was not yet bright.
For months, since I gave it new life (in the form of a battery) it has been taunting me, snatching away my life second by second. ‘Tick’, then before I even begin to think, ‘Tick, Tick’, all the while maintaining that benign, open-faced, semi-benevolent appearance, while mechanically and rather malignantly shaving slivers from the end of my time.
It was half an hour later that I realised it was dead. 8:03 It must have happened yesterday. I had, in the power of my hand, the means to put the clock right, to give it meaning once more, and usefulness, yet while the kettle steamed I decided I rather liked things the way they were. I would live free of that insensible prodding.
I shall rely instead on the mistle thrush to tell me when my day should begin. The poor thrush has built its nest where a large branch joins the bole of a great beech, rather than hidden in a thorny bush as his cousin the song thrush is currently doing. Now he finds fright at every corner and spends each moment in shrill alarm, beginning at dawn and ending only at day’s end.
It is true, there are dangers afoot. The magpie would make short work of his nestlings, as would the jay, or the raven that drops by at first light to see did the fox take his supper.
So the thrush, the sun and the shadow shall tell me the time. My belly tells me when to eat and my heart lets me know at what hour I should head to the lake. What more could I need?
The wind swings still north to north-east, making the mornings chill and evenings no time to relax in my garden chair. Polar air sweeps our skies clean, providing the best view of Connemara hills south Mayo has enjoyed for many years.
And our sunsets! Night after night the sky is painted pink or crimson to a greater or lesser degree. Broken cloud gives the best opportunity of stargazing, with the moon half-hidden and sections of the heavens opened one after another while the world around appeals for an end to lockdown.
But this morning! It is cool, even though my coat is wrapped about me. By the water’s edge the song thrush has left her mate to sing from the uppermost twig of the ash, to scour the shoreline for soft fibres. She’s a proper fusspot, I can see that.
She pulls at washed up twiglets, testing each with her bill and abandoning all but a few. Gradually she builds herself a small bundle, which she carries along, carefully putting it down while seeking more to add, before taking her beakful to where brambles grow under the holly. Perhaps there, in the dark shade, she will produce her four eggs of precious blue, which must rank among the prettiest in all creation.
I met her again on my way home, this time at breakfast. She had found a garden snail, which ordinarily need only retreat into the safety of its shell to wait things out before emerging to go about its business. But the thrush is no ordinary foe. She had her victim by the rim of its shell and bashed it on the tarmac until that brittle carapace finally fractured and the soft body of the creature within was exposed.
Along the edge of the road home I found the remains of countless other snails, both of the garden and pretty banded types. The thrushes favoured diet is what makes him such a useful bird. While my vegetable plot seems to operate as a highly efficient snail farm, things would be far worse were these friends of all who garden somehow missing. Man’s best alternative to the thrush, the slug pellet, makes a very poor substitute.
Slug pellets contain methaldehyde, which causes secondary poisoning in mammals and birds that consume poisoned molluscs. They aren’t pretty, they don’t charm us with their song or amuse us with their antics. If I resort to using them I should need that terrible, life-eating tick of a clock. Give me the thrush.
It was Richard Jeffries who wrote ‘To be beautiful and to be calm, without mental fear, is the ideal of nature’. Outdoor living, nature, wildlife, environment, climate, lockdown