The calm before the storm

clouds before stormwierd clouds before storm

After the hottest day of the year so far I headed in the evening down to the river, hoping to catch a bit of breeze and enjoy the sunset. Down by the river I knew I didn’t have long. Black clouds filled the sky behind me and a distant flash of lightening showed what was coming my way.

A cloud bank bought the storm to me, a rolling worm of cloud tinged pink with the light from the dying sun. It came  towards me huge and powerful, full of tense air and pressure. It was otherworldly and just a little frightening, a force far greater than me turned above and, behind came the wind, suddenly and out of nowhere, bending the willow saplings double. Forks of lightening cracked across the sky and I began to feel a little vulnerable standing on the end of a pier by the river, the only upright thing in a flat landscape.

I like lightening but it also likes me…a little too much. I was once in a house hit by lightning, blown off the side of a metal fridge I was leaning against with an almighty crack, I felt the lightening earth through me, fizzing its way through my blood stream and down into my boots. Another time I went to an interview in a thunder storm. As I opened the door of the interview room and introduced myself a bolt of lightening hit the ground just outside the office, blowing all the electricity out and making every member of the interview panel scream. After an entrance like that how could they forget me, needless to say, I got the job.

Now standing on the estuary as the sky lit up with my electrical nemesis I felt it best not to tempt fate. After all, the lightning, this time, might get lucky.

Life’s a beach

on seasalter beach

While others stayed tucked up in their homes as winter gales and rain battered the coast of Kent, my hardy gang of volunteers were litter picking the beaches along the Swale nature reserve near Seasalter and strangely finding the whole thing rather therapeutic.

Ralph, me and Simon

Unlike lots of conservation work which seems to involve cutting down trees and bushes as often as planting them, litter picking is obviously 100% a good thing. removing all those bottle tops and crisp packets and helium balloons from beaches stops them tangling round birds legs, or ending up in the stomachs of porpoises or floating out to sea to end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area of floating plastic estimated to be as much as 15 million square kilometres which is out beautiful 20th century legacy to the future.

Also, despite the windy weather, the beach was bleakly beautiful, parties of knot and dunlin scurrying along the shore, skeins of brent geese overhead, the vast mud flats and the distant stick figures of bait diggers out by the tide line. My eyes, when I closed them, still swimming with the pebbledash patterns of cockles shells and tellin shells and creamy belied oysters.

seasalter groin

I walked along the beach with Marshall, putting the world to rights, working our way along the tide line like the dunlins, eyes down, focusing on the unnatural dashes of red and blue among the fluffy mosses and seaweed forest debris, turning aside whelk egg cases and mermaid purses. We joined the others sheltering in the sea wall and ate our sandwiches, the rain came across from Sheppey, hanging in grey drapes across the bay.

Back across the beach we hurried to shelter in the lea of a beach hut, then a final dash to the mini bus for hot tea and shortbread as the rain came battering down.

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Solvitur Ambulando

untitledTuesday proved to be a fitting end to the survey season as I trudged across miles of marshes in the driving rain. It could have been hideous but, like many things in life, being outdoors in the winter is all a state of mind.

On this occasion, the wind and rain in my face and the vast flatness of the landscape were what I needed. I needed to think and walk under sullen skies with swirling flocks of lapwing and starling overhead. Stonechats hunkering in the bramble, herons, with faces as thoughtful as my own.

The weather helped, the rain in my face and the fact that there was no one but me abroad. The world so empty that it was like walking around in your own head with a window to the outside world, a feeling enhanced by being encased in layers of waterproofs.  Solvitur ambulando, You can work it out by walking. Today it helped. I came to a decision while leaping a gate.

Unfortunately I had leapt down into a field of cows. Cows are not my favourite creatures, particularly gangs of heifers as these were. My own internalised problems took a back seat as I was faced with the more immediate difficulty of dealing with a bunch of feisty teenagers, egging each other on to take a swing at me.

“What’s that? Let’s have a look, go on Tommy, have her.” The lead cow fancied his chances and bundled over.

“Back off,” I said. “Back off, I want no trouble. I’m just here to look at that ditch and then I’m gone from your life.”

The cow looked at me with soulless eyes and at that moment I could understand why the devil is cloven hooved. The others pushed and shoved at the back, climbing on each other for a better look. I banged my stick on the ground.

“Geeeerrrrrrtttttt offfff.” I warned trying to sound farmer like and authoritarian. They only took it as a sign that I must be a provider of food and came closer. I was becoming surrounded, with my back to a barb wire fence and a railway track. My heart was pounding and stories of people crushed by cows played out it my head. If I was trampled in this spot then no one would find me for days.

I was reminded of the scene from the film Withnail and I where Withnail gives instructions from the safety of a nearby field. “Hold your bag up. Run at it shouting.”

I looked at this wall of bulk and horns and ran at it. “Ra, RA,” I shouted and slapped the nearest one with my stick. They  backed off, hooves flayling. I pounded away across the field before they could change their mind and reached the level crossing, climbing on top of the locked gate I felt victorious.

“Sucks to you.” I shouted back at the herd, jumped off the gate and almost got squished by an oncoming train.

The survey season and my own concerns almost ending in spectacular fashion.