Monday, 7 April 2014

The Lesser Spotted

Rosy dawn.


Half remembered motions of getting up and dressed and heading to the tube and running for the doors and jumping on and realising it was the wrong train. Fifteen minute delay. The sun is up and burning through the haze when I eventually arrive. I shovel dry cereal from the packet into my mouth as I walk through suburban streets, hoping no one would see me.

Chiffchaffs sing and the dew in the grass sparkles. Old oaks emerge from the dissipating haze, raking at the jet contrails that scar the sky even at this time. The birdsong grew stronger: Blackbirds and Robins mostly, and other common species shading in. The sharp kicking call of a Great Spotted Woodpecker raised excitement, the sharp shriek of a parakeet took me by surprise. I'd forgotten I was in London. I was searching for Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, a species that is quickly and worryingly disappearing throughout England but which remains in some of London’s wooded edges. It remains a secret though: I was told about this wood on the condition that I would tell no one else.

Magpies loitered like bored teenagers. Cackling and chasing each other, as if waiting for something, anything to happen. I loitered with them for two hours in that small wood between houses, quietly seeking out calling birds, unwilling to admit defeat until the sun rose above the canopy and the paths filled with dog walkers and the city roared into another sunny Saturday.

I may not have found what I was looking for in the wood, but I found something else. I found solitude in the city.

The single most exhausting thing about London is the lack of solitude. I can handle the hours I work and the hours I socialise but for a person predisposed to be out of the house; to be alone in some quiet place is the missing link. This is not a city built for introverts, for people like me who find chaos sapping and calm restorative. To be in the woods with the rising sun and surrounded by birds, not people, is the greatest simple pleasure I know.

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