Caught by the River

Richardson in Zanderland

John Richardson | 23rd December 2010

‘Words on Water’ illustrator, John Richardson, has upped sticks and moved east. Here’s how he’s getting on:

A letter from Zanderland: In the Deep Midwinter

It’s cold. Bloody cold. The penetrating Fenland wind was described by an angler I met as a ‘lazy wind, it can’t be bothered to go round you so it just goes straight through you’ and a very appropriate description that is too. Fishing has ground to a halt, the drains, rivers and ponds gripped in an icy fist, the water looking like a milky fish eye but with the hard frosts we have seen some strange and intriguing sights.
Following a tractor ploughing a field were all the usual crows, plovers, rooks and seagulls but in the middle of the flock of birds were two herons who, having been frozen out of their usual productive swims, were stalking imperiously along feeding on worms. Better still was the sight of a flock of domestic geese being given their grain feed and in the middle of them a heron. The gander, getting very stroppy with the interloper gives the full wing flapping ‘well hard’ display, the heron, completely unmoved, just keeps on pinching the food. I can just imagine him saying to the gander ‘one step closer and the lady goose gets it, OK’. Either way, the heron stared him out, showed him the beak and then had his porridge.
We were driving down a minor fen road and a movement in the corner of my eye made me look sideways and there’s a fox running along next to us in a stubble field, jumping drains nine feet wide and keeping up with us. When we turned left he just stopped and walked back to where he came from. Bizarre! Maybe they enjoy a race?
Another great avian entertainment is watching the crows and rooks when one of their number finds a walnut. Obviously it is a delicacy and not given up easily; whilst a crowd of feathered onlookers gaze on enviously our hero tries to get the nut open for a private truffle like indulgence. Once open the mob descend, eager for theft and food. When the crows and rooks are breaking a nut open on a metal barn roof the percussion effect is brilliant.

Apples remain on the trees, and on the ground, looking more like Christmas decorations than ever. In the hard frosts they provide food for flocks of redwings and fieldfares, thrushes, magpies and I suppose most small birds too. At ground level hares and rabbits feast on the windfalls oblivious of variety while deer, hares and rabbits gnaw on the prunings heaped between the rows of trees.

Freezing fog and minus seven temperatures day after day have cloaked the countryside in white rime making you feel as if you have been transported into a John Atkinson Grimshaw painting. As dusk falls the atmosphere is pure M. R. James, everything seems spectral, or is it an Arthur Rackham illustration? Whichever perspective you choose it is quite beautiful, particularly when the Fen skaters go zooming by.

In the villages there are the usual Christmas decorations and illuminations but in the more remote areas bursts of work-related Christmas creativity laced with good humour can be found. Father Christmas delivering sprouts by bicycle?
We must be in Christmas Zanderland.

Click here to read John’s previous letters from Zanderland
John at The Two Terriers Press