Country diary: Reaching out to the starlings on the wire

<span>Photograph: Graham Prentice/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Graham Prentice/Alamy

I am stuck in bed. Long-term illness tells you lies. It tells you that because you are not seen, you must mean very little. Preoccupied, morose, it takes a while for me to notice the noise from my open window, but it’s so persistent in the end that my thoughts break like an egg.

Starlings, shouting and shouting. I squint at the gathering shapes over the road. My sight unreliable, I lean to fetch the binoculars that I keep by my bed. I see them then: dozens on the telephone wire, on the roof behind, furious, every dark star of them, more joining to add to the throaty, angry insistence that something is wrong and everyone must know. And then I see a magpie on the ground, pecking and pulling at something broken, small. It has stolen a chick – a late baby from a proud second brood.

A part of me rises and joins them on the wire. My feathers are hurting as I scream too, with them, for them, and then I’m back in my body and my bed, only a spectator again, heart full. What did it feel like when they realised what was happening? Like pressure or fire, red and urgent?

I wonder what it feels like now as the magpie flaps off, their minds holding this new absence between them. Do they think of the magpie as one villain, or does their despair acknowledge a wider chaos that cannot be changed or controlled? More starlings are joining them, even now that it’s all over. I wonder how the news is shared or if it is just felt, somehow, in the bones of every bird on the block.

There are things that should never go unnoticed. I think of the word “keening” and how too much is left to go or be stolen quietly. I am deeply moved, challenged. Obsessing over my own worth and journey, I was offered the chance to be bigger, to join bigger. And does it hurt, this stretching into the world? Yes, maybe, but I learn a new way to be alive.

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