A northern sky

Photograph: Martha Lloyd

In the north this cold early evening the lights in the sky are birds flying low across the clouds. Like specks of distant dust in the sky, they move, cutting across the rooftops, over the gardens and away towards the sea. Behind them the pink and red of the clouds are like a dancing girl, swirling her skirts high, her feet on fire flying flamenco on the edge of dusk. Last night I didn’t sleep, woke too early chasing away my midnight worry which has left me exhausted. In my head are the words of the poet Fleur Adcock ‘It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in/ and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse’ and this is how I feel, have felt, all night long. It’s how many of us are feeling right now.

I plod through the day, sludge footed. Work is done, tasks ticked off, meetings attended and listened to, notes taken. The words on the computer skitter across the screen as my eyes try to adjust, catch up with them. At work, I forget ‘the worse things’ and find more and more to do until nothing is left that won’t wait until tomorrow. And when the screen is snapped shut, back they come with their taunts and their unfinished business and when the work day is over, I look out of the window the daylight has almost gone and that’s when I hear them. You always hear them before you see them, the sheer numbers of them, filling the sky and you strain to see from which direction they’re coming, because they seem to come from everywhere joining up last minute in a line that seems to stretch the full length of the horizon.

The geese weave and duck and dive in their triangles and chevrons V-ing their way across the sky, pushing to the front like jostling teenagers jockeying for position.  Every autumn when the children were small we’d go to Martin Mere to see them crowded on the wetlands, too many to count, busy with their tapping feet and sturdy pink legs, chattering as they ate, catching up on stories of their journey which will have been long and hard for those who made it. 500 miles they come from Iceland, guided back by the swell and curve of the landscape – the Ribble estuary, Morecambe Bay, even the M6 will guide them back, a straight line pointing to home.  https://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/martin-mere/

Like the birds, I too am on the move.  Almost seven years ago:

I  began to dream of a house, pale blue like a blackbird’s egg,
Nestled in wind and mad salt waves, summer’s memory held
In a handful of stars. With my feet on the land and my tail in the sea,
I built my house close to the shore then watched with eager eye
For the strings of autumn geese to come, stretched wide
Like skeins of cotton thread across my northern sky.

I wrote that in 2013, it was published in an anthology ‘Heavenly Bodies’ by Beautiful Dragons Press https://beautifuldragons.net/. I wrote it the last time I moved and I have the same dream this time. It’s always there, hovering. It always seems to be autumn into winter when I move, as though somehow I’m answering the call of these birds, following them homeward.

The birds keep coming, strings and strings of them. They are pink footed Canada geese flying back and forth to WWT Martin Mere. They mark the break in the year – autumn to spring and back again counting the hours out for us between dark and light. Some 18,000 of them on the last count as I write but they can number well over 40,000, sighted on the wetlands, their chatter a cacophony of voices which remind me of something I haven’t heard in a long time.  The sound is a poignant one, the gathering of voices becomes a distant memory of the sound of people together, just talking. They remind me of what is missing in all of our lives right now, but the joy of their gossip and laughter as they fly over is a promise of a better time that will come, as they will come, again and again, as they always do year after year throughout time.

Things by Fleur Adcock in ‘Sixty Women Poets’(1993) ed. Linda France, Bloodaxe Books

Photograph: Martha Lloyd

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