Coviditis Diary

Paddy Tanton

© Copyright 2021 by Paddy Tanton

Photo of the common English kingfisher.

Spring – Summer 2020

Week 14

I walked a lot after Gilly died, especially during the cold winter of 2012, mainly because I couldn’t sit still. Walking turned out to be the best of therapies, getting me through each day of loss one step at a time. It helped calm the agitation in my body and soothe the grief and rage in my mind. Processing as process! Gary Rogowski writes about being a carpenter and a walker. He reckons walking and thinking share the same heart beat and I agree. Walking frees the mind to focus without diverting awareness of what’s around you. I set out yesterday to walk up the hill to Syleham in order to find a path I might not have trodden before – a rare thing. I stopped first at the river bridge in the village and looked over the old brick wall to see what was happening down there. Sunlight through the trees was hitting the river in patches, causing grey/blue smudges of reflected light on the water surface alongside a bright yellow ochre as the light hit the river bed. These patches were like openings into the life of the river, and through them I suddenly saw several huge fish, a foot or so long swimming back and forth – into the shadows then back into the light. In the shallows, small fry were jumping to catch flies. (I think the large fish must have been pike or trout but when I tried to look them up later on line all the websites were about how to catch and kill them rather than what species they were).

I set off again up the hill in the heat of the day watching the swallows and dragonflies skimming the barley fields. Coming off a hill round a beet field in the shadow of the hedge I spotted a young hare hopping around outside a corrugated tin grain store by the road. Coming down to the road I stopped to look at my map and the young hare reappeared out of the field and came loping towards me. I stayed very still, hardly breathing, and it came to within a yard of me and sat down. We both stared at each other for quite some time until it decided I might be a threat and left running, as only hares can, back into the field. It was the most beautiful half-grown creature, sleek and slim and all ears, eyes and legs. The fact that the animal could trust me for so long a moment was like a blessing connecting me to the earth. It feels rare and very special to encounter wild animals in this way, like the dog otter I met crossing the road in front of me as I drove home late one night. Again, we stared at each other for a while in complete mutual surprise before he trotted on. When the hare left I set off again and found the track I was looking for but couldn’t get the beauty of the animal out of my mind. The track took me back to Syleham and from there familiar territory home. This landscape seems so tame in comparison to that walked by Gary Rogowski – he writes about hiking in the spectacular mountains and river valleys of Oregon – but I doubt his pleasure is greater than mine.

Week 20

Lovely, warm, early autumn days have arrived with that soft slanting light that shimmers off the morning dew. I have come down to the wide river valley at Mendham and set off along the line of enormous willow trees by the bank. The day grows hot with a cooling breeze and I watch conjoined dragonflies – red in front, brown behind – dipping eggs onto the surface water. As I rest under the largest willow to watch the life of the river a kingfisher flashes by, a streak of iridescence then gone. The old tree creaks behind me in the wind, moorhens paddle and dip, coots call from the reeds and fish ripple the surface between patterns blown by the wind. In the far distance I hear the voices of children from the playground of the village school making life seem almost normal again. A brown-winged insect is busily skimming the water and fields of sweetcorn glisten on the far hill. As I wait and wait, hoping the kingfisher will return, wind hisses through the trees and the odd yellow leaf spirals down. Following the way the kingfisher went, I walk further down river and find two swans and their young gliding by a heron standing on an outcrop of reed in the middle of the river, neck stretched, beak pointing downwards, fully intent. Further round still, two sparrowhawks, one adult, one young, sit on an old tree stump gazing at the world together till the adult flies up into the nearest willow. I used to live near this village fifty years ago and visited this valley often. Not much seems to have changed in the landscape since then, yet in the human world, almost overnight, everything has changed. As I drove home a storm gathered, one side of the sky was black the other bright blue and across these spanned a double rainbow. An arrow of seagulls flew across passing to the dark side gleaming bright white from the suns rays.

Winter-Spring 2021

December Week 1

After days of rain the temperature has plummeted and there have been some beautiful cold bright early winter days. I took a long walk westwards, upstream to Hoxne along a lovely green lane by water meadows. In the low light, horizontal web-threads were streaming and flashing silver between the trees; twigs and branches were covered in shards of ice along the windward side which clattered down in my path as the sun dislodged them to rain down leaving a dazzle of water droplets along the bare branches. Either side, angelica seed heads covered in frost added a stunning festive decoration. The path was littered with ice and deer prints and eventually I saw three roe deer in the field above the path feeding on the scrub. They knew I was there but held their ground checking on me now and then. When I reached Hoxne I felt quite elated and decided to treat myself to some chocolate biscuits from the community shop which was full of delicious things, though the woman serving me told me it was about to permanently close. Whilst waiting for my turn to be served a woman came in and we got talking about how covid messed with our brains and made us forget things. She told me that, only this morning, she had multi-tasked breakfast and the washing machine and had found herself about to sprinkle a water-softening tablet on her cereal. We laughed. I left the shop with my precious biscuits and she hurried out after me – I had forgotten my stick, left behind at the counter! After munching my way through too many biscuits on the village green, I set off home. Down at the river bridge I saw two egrets and two herons flying around the wide valley and heard buzzards cry as they circled the woods. Further down the lane and almost home I took a side track down to the river bank and came across a miniature music festival site – a tiny Glastonbury! Or, in my particular history – Woodstock! There was a very small stage jutting out over the river, wooden notices pointing in all directions – bar, toilets, shack, bonfire, village - and back in the scrub and brambles there was indeed a shack, a shower and kitchen with solar panels. There didn’t seem to be much room for tents but I’m sure they managed. It seemed rather sad under current circumstances, like a good idea put on hold – but whose idea was it? I sat on a log by the stage like a punter waiting for the main event and looked over at Syleham church amongst the trees on the far bank. The main event arrived! Two swans lazed by - the one in front had her wing feathers raised upwards and the low sun shone through them illuminating her like an elegant, majestic river spirit. It was breathtaking.

February Week 1

The last few days have felt like spring. Snowdrops and celandines have been carpeting wild gardens for a while and today I saw primroses on the leeward side of ditches. Birds are doing their spring singing and as a result we are reminded of change and life feels more hopeful. I walked to Rushall under a wide blue sky. On the way I counted ten hares and three Roe deer spread across three ploughed fields. Over by the woods, mist was rising as the sun evaporated the pools of rainwater along the field’s edge. On the way back I was walking into the sun and decide to turn and look back to give my eyes a rest. All I could see was an advancing wall of dense mist rapidly swallowing the landscape behind me. Soon a freezing fog enveloped me. I was still aware of the blue sky above but could see only a yard or two in front. More rain is forecast. The land cannot absorb any more. The river is already full and lapping against the walls of the house nearest to it in the village, a plastic chair is lodged in an overhanging tree. Where the beck enters the river used to be almost hidden, now it is estuarine by comparison, and the rest of the landscape continues to be scoured and changed by the endless rain. Water is still pouring down the road as drains are constantly blocked by topsoil and debris. The man in the first house in the row that was flooded was out with a bright luminous pink plastic shovel trying, like Canute, to hold the waters back and away from his drive which slopes inconveniently to his front door. You could see in his actions the sense of desperation and outrage, his manhood defeated by mother nature. I’m hoping he wasn’t there all night.

I have been keeping a diary since April 2020 entitled ‘Coviditis’ and am sending in four of the weekly entries two from spring to summer and two from winter to spring, each involving encounters with wildlife.  I am 74 years old and live on my own in a village in Norfolk called Brockdish.  I have never published anything before.

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