Caught by the River


Danny Adock | 10th April 2016

Words and pictures: Danny Adcock

Spring is upon us, meteorologically and astronomically. We may not feel it in the raw winds or the several inches of snow that fell overnight on parts of the North, but it will become more apparent with every passing day, and gather pace like a cavalry charge into the full blown gallop that will finally burst Summer’s defences. There will be some stumbles along the way no doubt, Winter is ever the worst hanger-on, like a drinker in a pub after last orders eking out the dregs of his pint, but there’s that inexorable something in the air that everyone, and every thing, feels. Yesterday under a blue sky, the hedgerows were beset with birds busying themselves frantically with preparations for the coming season. Blue, great and long-tailed tits dart and flicker with the urgency of flames that spread from bush to bush and twig to twig, occasionally disappearing within the confines of the ivy that in places smothers the hedges.

This time of year can feel schizophrenic. One minute I’m bathed in warm sunshine, sheltered from the breeze and too warm in hat and gloves, the next I’m in the shade at the edge of a pine plantation, where frost still rimes the grass between the bare earth of the sheep tracks fluting this way and that, and the air is frigid and hushed. Then a skylark sings and its song climbs like a curl of early morning mist in a shaft of warming sunlight; the seasons snapping back and forth between personalities.

Birdsong has the same ability as music to transport me out of body, to a time, a place, a feeling. Dinosaur Jr’s Freak Scene takes me back to legendary alternative nightclub the Pink Toothbrush in Rayleigh, Essex; The Wedding Present’s George Best to the pain of teenage love; the skylark’s song sends me to the village I spent the latter years of my childhood, where fields of ripening corn sloped the sides of the valley, and a shaggy Airedale terrier like an old rug ran beside me; the yellowhammer’s little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese lament takes me to a Summer evening in a different village, and my grandparents’ house where now another family’s car is in the driveway. Along the riverbank I walk now, where the grass clumps are tussocked into wigwams, a wren in humble brown shows herself briefly before disappearing shyly like a reclusive old lady. The song she leaves behind her is as clear as the chalk-filtered water, and it follows the river in a spate towards the sea, spilling over the sill of a little weir, and weaving under the willows that sentinel the bank. Again I time-hop more than thirty years. This time to where another wren sang boldly from the corrugated roof of a tumbledown shed below a stand of elderberry trees where we ran as wild as the garden sometimes grew, this time with a floppy eared, soppy black mongrel at our feet; half-remembered moments of childhood, like closed-up rooms in an attic suddenly filled with sunlight.

Swinburne wrote ‘When the hounds of Spring are on Winter’s traces, The mother of months in meadow or plain, Fills the shadows and windy places, With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain.’ The only leaves lisping today are those of the tree ivy, most of the hedges and deciduous trees are still bare, but there is a watchfulness of memory over the landscape – the ‘Mother of months’ is waiting, and very soon buds will begin to open, leaves unfold, and crops green the still-brown fields. Overhead, a buzzard on the wind is being mobbed by four rooks like whirligig beetles round a leaf turning slow circles on the quiet current of the river beside me. Its keen call is answered by another that rises into view over the pines where I think they are nesting. Very soon, if not already, they will be rearing chicks, and Winter will be the distant memory that Spring’s growth, and Summer’s warmth, will make it.

Danny Adcock on Caught by the River