Long clouds hang over the hill; it’s warm and the sun is strong in the valleys between them. Green woodpeckers raiding ant tumps in the meadow call across the view, which sweeps north to the Wrekin and south to the Clee. On the steep hedgerow, young yew branches grow out of the hollow carcass of the old tree, and watching from a fallen trunk by the stream is a sheep skull with yellow celandine flowers in its eye sockets.
April explodes. Brilliant white cherry blossom, pistachio flakes of elm, maroon tufts of ash; a shimmer over wood anemone, bluebell and wild garlic; the snap-dance of brimstone, orange-tip, holly blue and small tortoiseshell butterflies laying pheromone trails, the chemical equivalent of birdsong; the fierce oratory of chiffchaff, robin, yellowhammer, blackcap, the aural equivalent of flowering.
The world is in fast-forward, powered by something like joy, but edgier and mysterious. The dunnocks dance their sex magic: the female invites a male into her territory and, as she shakes a tail feather, he pogos sideways behind her, keeping within her peripheral vision, pausing only to peck at a gland that will expel the sperm of rival males, convinced (erroneously) that he is the one she has selected.
They are both caught up in a spring that expands faster than our language can describe it. That lack in us, the way a cynical use of language has detached us from wonder, erodes our magical connection with spring and smuggles in the forces of ecological collapse. Even though it happens in these islands every year, each spring feels more urgent and vital than before; each moment of springing-ahead feels more fragile and tenuous than the last; each attempt to articulate the intoxicating intimacy, paradox and riddle of nature fails, until we abandon faith and reason.
Ritual and gesture are ways of suspending consciousness to step out of the domestic world and fall into the flow of images of what seem like involuntary acts, such as butterfly flight, birdsong and blossoming. Before this seismic quake of spring fades, we can feel life’s wild intention, the art that comes from reverie, watching with the skull’s celandine eyes.
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