Sunday, 22 February 2009
By the water
I'd dreamt of getting away this weekend, perhaps even abroad. It didn't work out. There was too much to do, even if I could have made arrangements for a teenager and cat. But on Saturday sunshine arrived and by afternoon I was filled with a restless desire to walk - away from the house and the shops and towards the river.
I wasn't the only one. Walkers ambled, runners jogged and cyclists overtook both. Dogs were alert to every movement or tired and eager to reach home. Canoeists were checking their boats. A fisherman flicked his rod in the air - there was a slim shimmer of silver so lovely that I found it hard to remember that, for the fish, this elegant movement was death and pain.
Passing the lock, I reached the point where the canal meets the river. A cacophony of birds greeted me. I know few bird calls but recognized the sound of Canada geese - out of sight but very near, hidden by the tangle of scrawny winter undergrowth. For all the sunshine there was little sign of Spring.
I followed the path, always looking toward the river with its moorings for launches and narrow boats. I caught sight of a familiar black bird. As I watched, it dived beneath the water. The surface of the water shivered for ages and I followed the movement till the bird surfaced again, half hidden by branches. Some kind of cormorant, I thought, or a shag. It looked like those I'd seen on the Northumberland coast or out on the Farne Islands. I watched it for a while and took a photo but the bird was a blur. I wasn't even sure I'd captured the right bird.
I tried to notice everything so that I would remember it: the shine of the water, the delicate screen of parallel twigs, the sense of being free and not quite certain where I was. But already much of it has vanished. There are photos as prompts - and I haven't forgotten the hunched and sulky heron, by the stump of a leafless tree in the water, glaring at an insouciant white gull that perched on a nearby branch.
Eventually my walk led to the nature centre and cafe. I bought postcards, tea and a slice of Dundee cake and rested till the centre closed. The staff were tired - no-one had expected a busy day in February but the lure of sun and water was too strong. As I left, I saw my first snowdrops of the year - a small clump of raggedy flowers that had pushed its way through dust and twigs and survived the recent frost. After that first clump, I saw more until, suddenly, on a tended lawn by the church, there was a carpet of snowdrops and pale mauve crocuses. Still February, but almost Spring.
A rustle of wings distracted me. I looked up and watched as the heron shrugged its way awkwardly across the sky.