Country diary: I ask the dark sky to show me a nice bird today – it obliges

·2 min read

Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire: My vision isn’t good at the moment, but this old railway line grants me bullfinch, fungus and blood-ripe berries


There is a long hidden path that runs through the industrial estate where I live. It’s as straight and narrow as a railway line and, 100 years ago, that’s what it was.

Now it is dog walkers and cyclists with cold breath that steam through its dark tunnels, their vests as neon bright as the graffiti. Dog walkers, cyclists and me.

I am particularly unwell at the moment, but all I want is to be outside. I love the path in winter: the stunted, skeletal trees that line it; all those gorgeous, branching fractals overhead.

I like the mud; the dark other-worlds glimpsed in puddles; the deep browns of leaf litter pushed to the edges; the unexpected architectural shapes of scruffy hedgerow plants, frozen in decay.

As the light dims, my boyfriend sets up my wheelchair with fleece-cosy and hot-water bottle, helps me into it, and pushes me along the path until it gets dark. Up and down: a slow, watchful locomotive.

My vision isn’t great and I struggle to take it all in at once. Instead, I use my camera to focus in on small windows of interest, finding them by chance or directed by Fraser’s call.

We find a hazel branch grown into a tight red knot; a sudden, thick carpet of cavernous green apples. The damp sawn stump of a tree glows like a headlight while clumps of orange fungus spatter its fallen trunk like fairy umbrellas.

Blood-ripe berries hang on, silhouettes against the gloom, and the last of the light turns the odd yellow bramble leaf gold. I am enchanted, serenaded by robin song, preserving each detail: click.

On our last walk, I decide to make a request. “Show me a nice bird today?” I call to the dark sky. I’d have been content with another robin, but it is a bullfinch that finds my lens, sitting still and watchful, bright as a bauble.

Even in winter, in the urban gloom, even in darkness, nature is so generous. I take each photo to look at later, thankful, back in bed.

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