Stuart Bullen: Spring the season of bluebells and swifts
Spring is here. A pre dawn walk – an activity that makes you feel slightly virtuous – through the dewy meadow grass, slightly luminous in the warming rising sun in a twilight mauve sky, gives you a completely different take on the countryside around Bourne. For one thing it’s so devoid of manmade noise. An air so quiet and still that the chatter of chaffinches can be heard from the frothy white cow parsley lined hedge a quarter of a mile away sounds a lot nearer than it really is, while the bark of a vixen fox in the neighbouring Elsea woods could be right behind you.
The newly released aromatic smells of the hawthorn and cherry blossom gently accosts your nostrils as the buttery verdant scent of the lemon yellow rape in the fields pervades all. You notice more too. With seemingly the whole of the countryside purely to yourself, you become aware of nature’s movement. The dawn air moving through the slightly blue tinged green of the wheat fields like an invisible tidal wave. A solitary stoat uncoiling like a spring and bounding across the footpath with frenzied leaps in front of you or the backlit clouds throwing shadows on the ploughed - almost combed - furrows in an otter brown field. Bramblings and goldfinches dive in and out of the hedgerows, weaving an invisible thread through the dog rose thorns.
The more you look the more you see.
Colours seem more vivid and alive in the early morning. The spring trinity of blue, white and yellow wildflowers are scattered throughout the low rolling landscape. The white of new daisies seemingly thrown carelessly in a corner by a style, their purple tinged corollas singling them out from the lacklustre survivors of the mild winter.
The vivid electric blue of alkanets, bluebells, speedwells and the wonderfully named forget me nots stimulate the senses in a way the pre walk coffee doesn’t. Walk up by the Toft nature reserve and an ocean of cheery yellow cowslips swaying in the breeze with the soundtrack of skylarks in the background sets you up for the day unlike the early morning news.
Spring time in Bourne doesn’t arrive on a specific date on a calendar as it almost does in Europe. It sometimes in the background, hardly discernible, slowly arriving and then one day we notice the swifts or the swallows, the celandines and anemones in the wood and realise spring has been settled around for a while. Sometimes it makes a big noise and almost in our face if we have had a particularly cold dark winter.
In the not too distant past, spring was greeted by people throughout England as a time of celebration and optimism after the lean winter months. Today most only notice it when they can walk outside without a coat or when a plethora of bank holiday open days at local nature reserves, such as at Dole wood, are seen advertised around town.
Springtime seems to be cheapening its currency with us. We could be in danger of losing its language.
In a recent interview, the bestselling author Robert Macfarlane was lamenting on how the Oxford Junior dictionary has been dropping words like bluebell, heron and kingfisher – as well as conker and acorn – to replace them with words such as broadband and celebrity, language which has more relevance with today’s youth.
Bluebells are in danger of going the way of thy, ye and thou.
Even the concept of spring as a season has come under attack. Some scientists advocate that spring doesn’t really exist. They claim that there are only two real seasons: winter (cold) and summer (hot). Therefore spring (neither hot nor cold) really is a changing remnant of winter passing over into summer and shouldn’t really qualify as a true season.
But whatever words might go in and out of fashion and however our attitudes to our environments (and science) continue to change, one thing will be certain. The season when celandines, bluebells, swifts, cherry blossom and the rest revisit us will still be here. Whether or not we chose to recognise it as spring will be our choice.
But for those of us who do, it’s a great time of year for the senses. Especially if you can pull yourself out from under the duvet and go for a dawn walk.
Give it a go. Beat the dog walkers and car noise and enjoy having Bourne’s spring countryside all to yourself.
It’s worth it.