This is a picture of liberation. It was taken at Minsmere just after 6.30am on 29 March, the day the injunction to “stay at home” was lifted. Throughout the long and dark winter of relative imprisonment I have longed for a different horizon, and accordingly I set off with the dog the moment we could to the tiny hamlet of Eastbridge (whose tranquillity is soon to be despoiled by Sizewell C construction), and walked to the sea, then north along the coast – the Southwold light winking in the distance – and back through woodland and heath.
We saw not a soul, but our arrival was trumpeted by the boom of a bittern. I am a not infrequent visitor to this magical place, but had never heard a bittern before. I have certainly not seen this shy bird, and the photo may explain why, for it is a master of camouflage. Bitterns are members of the heron family with all-over bright, pale, buffy-brown plumage covered with dark streaks and bars, perfect for blending into the background. It flies on broad, rounded, bowed wings. It moves silently and secretively through reeds at water’s edge, looking for fish. The males make this remarkable and far-carrying booming sound in spring, like the far-distant report of a big gun or foghorn.
Walking back, we stopped to see how the Little People were getting on with their tree home, but alas it seems to now have become a receptacle for all sort of mementos, and its branches similarly adorned. Soon it will rival the Groby Tree.
March has showed us both its leonine and its lamb-like character. Early in the month fierce gales blew in, and blew out two 1m50 panes in my greenhouse, showering shards of glass all about. I was unaware of all this going on, being laid low with a virus (not the virus), and in bed for a week. This rare indisposition, which leached all energy from me for some weeks, is my excuse for the paucity of content in this month’s offering. However, I have been lately restored by a few days of exceptional beauty and warmth, which gave us the hottest March day for half a century.
This warmth and the lengthening days have caused spring to spread across the landscape in a great rush of greening. It would be impossible not to be moved each year by this explosion of nature and colour, the burgeoning, the bursting of buds, the intensity of birdsong each morning. The sun now both rises and sets north of east. This year all this has come together with our partial liberation from lockdown, combining into a feeling of hope and exultant joy.
It is not only the daylight, the fields and woods, the flowers and birds which tell out the glory of spring, but the night charts the advance of the seasons too. When the dog and I go out at night our prospect is south and south-west, and I see the steady progress of the winter constellations – Hydra, Canis Major, and above all Orion westward across the sky. Soon they will be gone, to emerge once more in the east in the autumn:
“The heavens declare the glory of God, the vault of heaven proclaims his handiwork, day discourses of it to day, night to night hands on the knowledge. No utterance at all, no speech, not a sound to be heard…” (Psalm 19).
Already the pale primroses, in flower since January, are being engulfed in a rising tide of green. Each year I think they are even more prolific and more beautiful than before. They must profit from wet winters… the violets too. On more open ground there are already cowslips and oxlips, and in the woods the dark green pungent leaves of wild garlic are thick beside the paths.
I say frequently at the end of a month’s chronicle that surely I must draw them to a close soon. In March the combined effects of an enforced eremitical lockdown existence and an even profounder withdrawal from the world brought about by whatever virus knocked me out, mean I have even less to say than usual. My life has shrunk. I can only hope the advent of summer and greater liberty to meet and speak to others will expand it again.