A bright new, icy-chilled, sunlit day. A first day back in school. A chance to catch up on housework and the companionable silence broken only by the gossip of the sparrows on the plum tree, waiting on their breakfast of seed, nut and mealworm.
Then a text. A broken heating system. A closed school. Another day of wandering a frosty world, this time with company. Lunch eaten at home, we grab our coats and boots and walk out into the glistening, shimmering world.
The sun is already dipping low by the time we reach the farm track. Robins bounce alongside us in the hedge; goldfinches ‘tsee’ and flit overhead, tiny bodies dancing from branch to branch in the bare, frost-twinkling hawthorn bushes. Hard, black soil felt keenly through our wellies; every rut and every ridge imprinted into our memories of this magical, extra day off school.
A shuck-shuck-shuck ahead, at first I think startled blackbirds heading from what we call the Winter Tree, a tree that stands forlorn and mostly bare even in the heady depths of summer; but on closer inspection we discover with joy that these are, in fact, fieldfares – the first we have ever knowingly seen. ‘Pretty thrushes’, the eldest calls them as he spies them through the telescope on the field where you would expect them. We are justifiably thrilled.
We are, however, here to find the buzzard. We are learning to know how to seek him out, we are finding the signs to watch for – startled birds, frantic blackbirds, sudden hidings. We have not been unlucky of late, seeing him each time we have wandered this path; usually hovering high over the field, or over the motorway, presumably looking for an easy take-away lunch of squashed animal.
Today we walk the path, and he is not there. We scan the skies. We scan the trees. We continue to walk to the new Forestry Commission nature park, past the iced over pond and the casually discarded beer cans and up to where the dog-walkers march with their ball-throwers and retractable leads and…..there is he. He rises, as though in greeting, from the brush in front of us.
His hugeness, his denseness, his importance never fail to impress me. I always forget quite how large he is. He flies, rather lazily off, to a tree that barely looks solid enough to hold him and there he sits, imperiously.
Master of all he surveys.
Magpies attempt to intimidate him by bouncing around him in the same birch, but he treats them with disdain, like monochrome jesters in his court, unworthy of his attention. He scans around, as though merely interested in his surroundings. Resting. Biding his time.
We walk on. We see a fox slinking along a path; and the white bums of deer in the trees. We meet an angry little wren and watch the sun drop lower in the sky; making the frost shine yellow fire like amber and glint like diamond dust under our feet and become burnt into our retinas and into our memories.
The buzzard, and the day that shouldn’t have been.