by Dudley Martin
It’s a creature. The thought seems to lie in wait for the sound. I can’t tell if it’s hunger or curiosity which freezes me. The noise comes again from the reedbed, in a slightly different place; a spoor of crumpling, fracturing. Something moving.
First rule of listening: stop. Now scan, locate. A fox does this, can swivel its ears through half-circles. Is it reynard in the swamp, tempted by ice-bound waterfowl? I look for a viewpoint, a gap between blackthorns. But you cannot see far into reeds before the eye falters. A bittern understands, stretches a vertical neck, hides itself in slender rushwork.
Unusual here, so near the coast; ice. Golden sunshine falls on ivy by the track, blue flies bask. It might be Summer, but for a damp tunic. It is ivy Summer. Contrary as the back of the moon, ivy wears her garland of blackjacks; which the redwing gathers with its needle, the fieldfare with pruning shears.
Farther away now, the movement. Twitches and waggles of reed seedheads. Bleached and wispy, they hold their own frozen light, give body to the wind. I think about deer, have seen roe not far from here. Might one have strayed into the reeds and got into difficulty? I hope for a flashing white rump, a roe hind jumping clear. There is no deer.
What if it isn’t mammals at all, or birds, but fish? Maybe pike have woken to see winter midges settle on the surface of the ice; black stars in a white firmament? Pike stirring, rousing their great hulls to smash through ice. No. Midges are small meat. Pike will be lying deep and still, silent as boatwrecks.
Staring low into the edges of the swamp. Oily, rusty water skinned with white wafer-ice. Evidently the flood has receded and the surface frozen several times, because the ice is layered like thin-breads. Leaves of ice clasping stems in Runic shapes. A feather breeze shivers the reeds. A volley of shattering slingshot-falls, yet no shot was flung. Imagine a Winter feast, the revellers all eating crackling.
A chorus of squeals. I clutch my bowstring, crouch lower, but it is not boar. I’m losing sense of their spoor, beginning to forget their sound. Water rails are calling deep in the reedswamp. Sharmers. They squeeze between reeds like shuttles through the warp. I’ve seen very few in all these years. They know who the creature is.
Dudley Martin is 53 and lives in Worcester with his partner and daughter. On Twitter you may find him @ivysuckle, where he tweets about garden wildlife and and close encounters with nature. One of his true loves is the natural world and it is in the wonder of nature that he finds the inspiration to write.