Buzzard

Three buzzards, then four, then five, were planing across the coeruleum sky, half-open books channeling upwards, closing shut to drop down, all the while their long calls unwinding across the blue.

I haven't been down to the Severn since the beginning of this current lockdown, but last week I planted a willow branch we picked up on our last walk there way back in the first days of January. That day we cracked ice on the puddles, the dog chased sticks into the freezing rhynes and we watched the sweet breath of cattle in their stalls chiffon out into the January air, not far off Christmas and an expectant new year. And now here we are – beyond the spring equinox – talking longingly of freedoms.

The willow branch was just there, lying on the ground. We picked it up and posed the question: Would it grow in a vase of water? I have poor to mixed form growing things indoors so had well-earned doubts. But we took it home and that evening I secateured a piece off the end and dropped the rest of the branch hopefully into a glass jug.

For a few days nothing happened, surprising nobody. Then a small root began to grow. Very quickly it became long, thin shoots, coral-coloured, diaphanous and siphoning life from nothing but water and light. We moved the willow outside, transplanting it into a plastic mason-jar-style container I bought from IKEA many moons ago to hold Christmas present rollmops that I never made. Through frost, thaw and March winds it existed in stasis on the deck, roots growing stubbornly, curling back up toward the sky when they ran out of room to crawl down the jar.

Ideally, we should have planted it when the first shoots started to show, but I got stuck in that domestic inertia that is a weird combination of busyness and apathy. That and a lockdown lack of headspace to even untangle whether the planting should happen in the front or back garden. Eventually, last week, I found a good spot in the back garden and finally planted the willow. Magically, you'll be pleased to hear, it seems to have survived the move. It even appears to be thriving.

So with the willow in the ground, the bird table now regularly strip mined by a pair of hoover-cum-wood-pigeons, bus-sized bees banging about languorously and a red admiral taking direct aim for the grape hyacinth it feels very much like spring has let down her hair.

Today the garden was full of sun. I ate lunch on the bench under the neighbour's overhanging white rose. Just as I finished my bowl of leftovers and thrown together salad bits I heard the familiar mewl of a buzzard overhead and got up for a look.

Three buzzards, then four, then five, were planing across the coeruleum sky, half-open books channeling upwards, closing shut to drop down, all the while their long calls unwinding across the blue. The usual worries of the working day dissipated in the face of this freewheeling raptor sky show. Yet another buzzard joined the wake*. "Where did six buzzards come from?" I asked my dog in amazement, but he was too distracted staring expectantly at the rope I wasn't throwing him. I watched the birds for a few more minutes, warmed through with rapture and the fat plushness of the day: week-old skaters pinging on the pond, the flowering tulips and forsythia, the stirring marsh marigold and cuckoo flower. I looked across at the unfurling willow, burying into the earth, pushing up into the realm of the buzzards. I was moved to think of this tiny part of the Severn vale living, growing right here in the garden, as the buzzards mewled in the March sky, gained height and spun out across the sky.

*The collective noun for buzzards. Who knew?