Yesterday’s Walk

We’ve had rain recently, and everywhere was muddy again. Much more like I would expect February to be. The ground had dried out quite a lot over January, but the soil was still saturated just beneath the surface and it doesn’t take much for it to turn back to thick, claggy, mud. But the weather was better than had been forecast; and as I set out the sun was glinting on the stubble fields and in the shadows there was just the faintest blue hint of frost. It felt so Spring-like. Everything was suddenly green and growing.

Soon, I was much too warm in all my layers. Mornings like this inevitably remind me of other favourite walks; long walks on sunny, clear days. I walked through a valley which was filled with birdsong – blackbirds, robins, blue tits, the demented cackle of a green woodpecker, and the determined drumming of a greater spotted one. In the future I will probably take walks that remind me of this one.

I must sometimes be a frustrating person to walk with – I like to stop frequently and just look around me. Absorb the landscape. The air smells fresh, now, but without the over-sharp coldness that stings the nostrils. Even though it is too early to smell flowers in the air, there is something on the breeze…Something evocative, much like the scent of woodsmoke causes me to instantly think of trekking in Nepal, or campfires closer to home in Sussex.

Suddenly there is a kestrel overhead…I never seem to get those shots of foxes or buzzards and don’t know whether I’m just too slow or if everyone else just walks along with their cameras in their hands, ready to take that photo.

At least flowers and trees tend to keep still. I do find my camera can be an unwanted distraction, though. If I am walking along looking for something to photograph, I feel I’m not really seeing the landscape around me. I’m just searching for a subject. For that reason, I often don’t take a camera with me on walks.

The first peacock, in fact the first butterfly of any kind I’ve seen this year. But talking of green woodpeckers and kestrels, I think there is a case for replacing all their somewhat dull modern names with the ones they used to have in the past: the green woodpecker was the yaffle, named for its wonderful manic call, the kestrel used to be called the windhover – how wonderful is that? And in the seventeenth century it was actually commonly known as the windf*cker. Perhaps the prudish Victorians banished that name the same as they changed the perfectly named white arse to the bland (and meaningless) wheatear.

I think we should reclaim the names; they add extra interest to a long walk.

24 thoughts on “Yesterday’s Walk

  1. I think here, in the Great Lakes region, we’re still two months or even more, from scenes like these. Milwaukee is the same latitude as Tuscany, more or less, but Friday night it should be -12 C.
    I love “windhover,” but “woodpecker” seems pretty fair (or “treehammer”?)

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  2. Speaking of names and descriptors, thank you for helping me understand the meaning of ‘claggy.’ My daughter and I are binging The Great British Baking Show, and I love how Prue and Paul describe textures so we can all experience them vicariously: “claggy,” “stodgy,” “squidgy.” We love it!! Hope you’re getting more and more time outside these days!

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  3. Your mention of the woodpeckers reminds me of a nearly-unbelievable fact I recently learned. Their very long tongues wrap around their brains, to protect them from the effects of that high speed pecking. I’m not sure if that’s true for all woodpecker species, but I’ll bet it is. More research is required! ‘Windhover’ is a perfect name for a Kestrel. Do you know if the ‘hover’ part of the name denotes hovering? Or might it be a construction based on ‘hove’ — as in the sailing term ‘hove to’? Either could make sense, I think.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I did know that – it seems remarkable; a really strange adaptation. How on earth did that evolve?

      And the kestrel – yes, hover as in hovering. The kestrel is one of only two British birds (the other being the lark) that have the ability to truly hover.

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  4. A lovely walk, and I am so jealous!!! I haven’t seen that much green since maybe last August (excluding the rotten veggies I found in the back of my fridge). And your birds are back already! We still have ice on the sidewalks from the last ice/snow storm, so I don’t imagine we’ll see any green anytime soon. I’m like you, I don’t walk with the intent of finding a photo op, so usually my camera is in my pocket and by the time I get it out, the moment has passed. But that’s okay … just enjoy nature … plenty of time for pictures, but if you miss the moment because you were digging for the camera … I did have a good laugh at the 17th century name for the kestrel!!!

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    1. We do have some birds all winter – the blackbirds stay, and in fact begin to sing more in the middle of winter, and the robins and a few tits. Plus some winter visitors. I’d imagine you have your share of birds in the winter?

      And yes, we need those 17th century names back in use again!

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      1. We typically do, but this winter there have been almost none … perhaps another result of climate change? I still put birdseed out several times a week, just in case, and peanuts for the squirrels who are definitely still around and hungry!

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  5. Oddly enough, I find I appreciate a landscape more if I have a camera at my side. I’m less likely to take it for granted.

    A quote from one of your countrymen, “What’s in a name?” — Will Shakespeare
    Although I believe the context was a tad more romantic than windf*cker. 😉

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  6. Love all of those old names, the Victorian have a lot to answer for don’t they? No problem with walking in the cold and damp, it is winter after all, but don;t really like getting soaked. Always liked the phrase ‘no such thing as a bad walk, just bad walking clothes’.

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    1. Strange lot, the Victorians. Mixture of ridiculous prudishness and excess debauchery.

      Yes, I’m usually of that opinion weather-wise, but we went for a walk this weekend that was just so utterly, bitterly, freezing it was no fun at all for the first hour or so.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Huh, prudishness and debauchery—seems like the typical combination that results from unhealthy repression? 🤔 Fascinating how such phenomena occur at both an individual and societal level—of course they do! We humans are funny and strange, and also predictable in our funny strangeness. We think we are so totally rational but we are *so* not! 🤪

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