Monday, December 10, 2012

Birds on a wire

 I see them across the field, lit by the low sun of evening. The purple sheen of their feathers is slick in the slanting light, like oil. The breeze and flicker of their movement is stilled, save for the ruffle of their feathers in the breath of wind.
Twenty-one crows, pinned on a fence in the chill of winter. Their sightless eyes reflect the pale cerulean sky, the flare of the setting sun. They seem bigger in death than in life, their bodies sagging with a weight which is not theirs in flight, a burden of gravity which they overcome each day, each moment, each gusty swoop on a westerly wind, every exalting climb from the winter branches of a bare tree. None of these movements will now be theirs, no portents of storms or weather-vane sympathy with the roiling wind. They are carrion, the cruel irony of their own name, a curse on their lives.
Beyond the senseless cruelty of their death, I cannot fathom the purpose in exposing their bodies in this way. I suppose there is some ignorant superstition which suggests it will deter further crows. And from what? From taking the eggs of pheasants, from preferring the lives of birds we have imported for the sport of their death, to the lives of those who are so part of this landscape. Their crime, it seems to me, is the crime of all the corvids: their intelligence, their craft and guile, the way their liquid plumage seems so black against the sky, the colour of evil, the colour of our fears and darkest dreams. They fill a need we have for monsters and culprits, chosen because they are the wrong colour.
 It sickens me, this slaughter; it reeks of arrogance and disconnection, the darker side of country traditions and values. Everywhere I go, I see the meaningless disrespect for the land, even from those who claim to be its custodians: the blooms of green algae in rivers and lakes, the black plastic fluttering on windy fences, the peregrines poisoned and deer shot and moles pinned on fences as brazenly as these crows; tokens of our power, our hatred, our own pitiful inadequacy in the face of such beauty, such willfulness. I am tainted with the stench of death, I am complicit, I am ashamed.


  1. Chilling pictures, evocative sentences. Love the way you have described the birds in the landscape -'a burden of gravity they overcome...each gusty swoop on a westerly wind'- lovely, and terribly sad.

    1. Thank you, Selina. I visited your blog and loved the photographs, and I see we share an interest in the way children respond to the outdoors, as well as a commitment to home educating (which I firmly believe is the best way to let children connect with the world around them). Keep writing,and I'll continue reading.

    2. Hi Ian, I have only just seen your response here after you commented on my last post. It's heartening to know people are reading even if slightly daunting when some of them write so beautifully! It's great to know you home educate, sometimes it can be a little scary...feels good to connect. I have some family in Cumbria although haven't visited them in a while, where are you?

    3. Hi Selina. I live out on the north-west side of the Lake District, which is the quieter part, thankfully. As you know from your own part of the country, it's very special to live in such a beautiful area, but rather strange for our children who believe that such fantastic landscapes are the norm!