The Kestrel’s Gift

A flash of chestnut-brown and black tinted wings followed by an ascending kee-kee-kee call told me that I was sharing my writing contemplation space with a kestrel. From that first sighting of a female in late May, I saw her a couple of times, and then nothing.

In June, she returned once again but I soon realised that she’d never gone away. What’s more, she wasn’t alone. I spotted the male, her partner, carrying food into the Dutch barn, and then heard several short shrill cries. The kestrel pair had young nesting there and, after further quiet investigation, I discovered that the brood were in the owl box high up in the roof rafters.

Many years have passed since a timid, rescued kestrel landed, unexpectedly, on my bare arm in a sunny glade following a talk about rescued birds. This rare encounter with a female falcon and those treasured moments of silent communion as she sat peacefully on my arm has remained vivid and close to my heart. Since this experience, I have always looked out for the kestrel and these beautiful falcons, known for their perfectly poised hover effect while hunting for prey, have been ever-present on my journeys, near and far, throughout the UK.

Like most kestrels, the adult pair are shy and wary. The female, perhaps the boldest of the two, is often sat on the telegraph pole or barn roof whereas her partner is more elusive, flighty, a flash of colour, stealth wings darting through the tree cover. Their territory, spanning at least 1km, if not more, is the hedge and tree-lined fields by the side of the lake and sluice and farmland beyond. I walk by their patch most days. I know I’m being watched.

The female would have sat on the nest for the first few weeks relying on the male to bring food. Since then, the pair have taken it in turns to feed their young, flying swiftly in and out of the barn, over the redundant farm machinery, carrying morsels of vole and shrew in needle-sharp talons. A shrill crescendo of cries can be heard as food arrives but the young remain instinctively silent the rest of the time.

Kestrels usually appear to hover while hunting but with weeks of oppressive heat and no significant rain through this rare summer, they’ve been conserving their energy. The female stays close to the nest, perching for long periods, searching the ground for voles and insects from her stationary post. The male flies further afield. From a distance, I’ve seen him do his hovering act, briefly, late one evening.

The male kestrel is different to the female. He has a distinctive pale blue-grey head and tail. His back and wings are chestnut brown spotted black. There is no grey in the female’s plumage. Her feathers are a mottled mix of chestnut, black and golden brown with a paler cream barred front. Often, the female is larger than the male but this pair are fairly similar in size. If anything, the male appears to be slightly bigger with a longer wing-span.

I have yet to obtain a clear photograph of the shy male. All I have is this grainy, dusk-blurred image of him taken on a distant telegraph pole.

As this long hot summer reaches its height, the young kestrels are emerging from their nesting box. So far, I’ve seen four of them on the wooden perch and roof beams. The eldest pair are ready to leave the nest whereas the other two still have their downy feathers. Have the parents had two broods?

The young ones are likely to stay close to the nesting site to master their way of life before leaving their place of birth perhaps in the autumn when they’ll secure their own territory.

This young kes was testing her wings and ability to carry captured prey, and she spent a good twenty minutes flying, hopping, and transferring her prey from talon to beak.

I say ‘she’ but I’m not sure whether this is a male or female as the juveniles look the same for a while before their distinguishing adult plumage is unveiled.

August Update

The four kestrels have left their nesting box. The youngest, ‘Grey’, so named because he looked like a little grey alien when he was a chick (see the earlier pic), took his maiden flight one afternoon in late July. Grey is the smallest, noisiest and most curious of the brood, and I feel that he is going to have a fair few adventures on his travels.

Grey is being looked after by his slightly more mature sibling. The other two juveniles, the largest and more silent of the brood, left the nesting site a while ago but are staying close, soaring and hovering and catching their own food.

It has been a privilege and a joy beyond measure to quietly observe this kestrel family as they go about their daily goal to survive and thrive, and I’ve learnt so much about their curious behaviour, their grace and their spirit.

The presence of these kestrels has been a gift and, as summer strolls towards autumn, I will continue to watch out for this family while wondering how they’ll fair in the countryside during these more challenging times. As they take to the sky, a part of me is flying with them.

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Life is But a Dream…

On the summer solstice, on the evening of June 21st, I returned with Fen to one of my favourite spots to wander and dance among the trees while gathering sensory inspiration for writing my new novel.

Such wonderful light appeared as the evening deepened revealing glints of insight – a transcedence – that can so easily be missed in the rush of living.

There is something uncanny in nature, something pure and spirited, and the essence of this simmers within us all.

At this enchanted place, where life as we know it appears to melt away, a memory dances on the breeze, shaking every leaf and branch, until I’m under nature’s spell.

The sun travels on the air and the tones of its song immerses me in the sparks of all that is, casting out silent shadows that remind us we are made of light and dark. This is how it is.

Senses are heightened as something instinctive rises from within. This awareness teases sinews, quickens the pulse.

We keep walking towards that golden light.

So easily, we can step into another realm and, for a moment, become one with the peace of blissful surrender.

The winged woman in the trees lifts up her wing. Can you see her?

Everything merges.

At the close of this longest of days, I remember that life is but a dream, and we are the dream-makers.

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Encounters in the Wild

When you spend time in nature, no matter how fleeting or irregular, chances are you’ll see some of the wild and free creatures that live there.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to meet and often capture a photo or two of all kinds of wild ones who reside with us on this treasured earth.

No matter what my mood, my spirits soar to see a hare, fox or deer cross my path or an owl fly past me or to marvel at a cute toad or the iridescent blue of a damselfly or to be amidst the soft yellow fluttering dance of brimstone butterflies in May.

Although I love being in nature (it is, after all, our very essence and inspires my writing), I’m not ‘out there’ all hours like, for example, those patient wildlife photographers or those who work on the land to garden, farm or conserve. It seems, then, most surprising that I’ve had so many curious and magical encounters in the wild.

These encounters include sharing a precious few moments of silent communion with a female kestrel that had flown onto my bare arm; a wily hare, as big as a hound, lolloping ahead of Fen and me up a farm track as if to say, ‘It’s this way!’; and the frequent presence of barn owls either flying or perched on fence posts that I seem to sense before they appear. I’ve been eye-to-eye with a fox-like wild cat in the Lake District. I’ve seen a leveret, just a few weeks old, confidently boxing a crow. On one occasion, Fen and I watched a lone roe deer almost fly across the barren winter earth, gliding over a ditch to stand in front of us for time-stopping moments before continuing on its way.

Only recently, I saw a herd of sheep in a tentative stand-off against a black cat that simply materialised on that gentle pasture. For some 30 minutes, I watched the sheep stamp the ground, nudge slowly forward, to eventually see off this curious feline.

The birds speak constantly, and hold me in their gift of presence. There is the little owl who loves to sunbathe in the morning while posing for a photo.

There’s the heron who seems to have been stood in the ploughed field for so long that its feet have disappeared beneath the loam.

Magical starling murmurations; pied wagtail; a one-legged mistlethrush; long-tail tit; and loch-side robin: these, and many others, fly in and out of my life and always with a song to lift my mood.

I’ve not always had my camera at hand to record these special encounters and, on some occasions, the camera would have intruded on the moment. If Fen hadn’t witnessed some of these ‘spots of time’, as William Wordsworth called them in The Prelude, it would be easy to question whether they’d happened at all. Did we really see a white pheasant in the woods or a bevy of pet rabbits on a bleak moor or those owls that surrounded our car while looking for meteors one star-strewn night?

It’s also easy to fuel the notion that these encounters bring a personal message, a deeper meaning, something symbolic, and if one looks for the meaning, one will most definitely find something. For me, these magical encounters remind me of our profound connection with the natural world, the beautiful transcendence of the wild, and the symphony that is life. The wild has its dramas, which often play out in front of us and, sometimes, something uncanny happens that makes us question everything.

As I write this on the eve of the summer solstice, having just returned from a well-spent hour listening to a skylark performing its soaring song over ripening wheat fields, I’m filled with gratitude for all these encounters, whether considered ordinary or extraordinary, that brighten my life. I am, without doubt, richer for them.

Here’s a little bit of magic… My friend, Mr Peacock, enjoying the sunset with sun-lit midges that look like fairies…

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A Place I Love…

There is a place I love, which I’ve been visiting for over 40 years: a place where two rivers meet.

I come here to be still when the mainstream world is far too busy, too crazy, and too much for a gentle soul.

I’m not sure why this place, in particular, sings to me, and keeps calling me back. Unlike many other places, this scene has barely changed in my life. Of course, the colours in the landscape alter from one season to the next. The hedgerows are taller and more dense, and some trees have grown where others have fallen. The bridge has been rebuilt a few times. Otherwise, much is the same.

Sitting quietly by the bridge, I see my 13 year young self riding a bike to this spot at 5am on a summer’s day. I brought my son and daughter here, when they were children, to play on this ghost-road in the blazing sun.

Here is where curious circles appeared in the wheat and where three owls met Fen and me one star-lit night while looking for meteors.

Here is where I stopped just a few nights ago until dusk fell and a barn owl flew by with his head tilted towards me.

(Photo by Mark Fenwick)

I have clocked-up many earth years here since my first visit, alone and with loved ones, and yet every time I return, it’s as if no time has passed at all, and I understand why. When I’m here, I’m in the moment, and this always returns me to the free-spirited, ageless soul that I am. 

Is there a place that calls you back again and again?

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Halcyon Days

Several weeks have passed since I moved to my new writer’s nest in this spirited place of lakes and meres.

I’ve slowed down since my arrival and yet seem to have enough time to be and do. I feel embraced by nature and there is a strong sense of having stepped back in (or out of) time. Halcyon days spring to mind. Old fairytale England. A sanctuary for one’s soul.

These enlivened feelings have blossomed by the fact we arrived mid-spring as the swallows returned and have had a surprising run of fine, warm-to-hot sunny days. Could this be the sweetest and sunniest May I’ve ever known? Certainly, in my part of the shire, summer is an early and most welcomed guest. We haven’t experienced a mini heatwave in these parts for many years and the memories of that long grey winter have faded in the heat.

From dawn until dusk and that mysterious place inbetween, nature is resplendent in its procession of colour and the air is vibrant with bird song.

Even more remarkable, my normally pale moon skin is tanning honey gold, and this is something that hasn’t happened in a long, long time.

The weather will change soon enough. It always does. Yet I feel that I’ll still be caught in the spell of this enchanted place, and this makes me happy.

I intend to spend as much time as possible enjoying the glimmering hues of sunshine, immersed in nature’s song, gathering sensory research for my next book and to simply enjoy these long light-filled days. Come the autumn and those darker evenings, I’ll continue the writing process and, all being well, the story will find its way on to the page.

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The Mysterious Mere

My immediate surroundings, as beautiful and idyllic as they are, do not contain me. I am a wandering star with a curious heart that finds joy and adventure in exploring.

Not too far away from my current abode, there is a gently nurtured wildlife path on the edge of Martin Mere. Fen and I have been aiming to walk this path for quite a while so, with much joy, on a fine May day, we found ourselves there.

Through the gate, we immediately entered the domain of butterflies and damselflies busily drifting and darting from one flower and leaf to another. For a short stretch, a fine assortment of hedgerows and trees lined the path, giving various degrees of sunshine and shade that was ideal for the winged beings that lived here. Bright yellow brimstone butterflies, too flighty to pose for a photo, fluttered teasingly around us while a dazzling blue damselfly paused, more obligingly, in the sunshine.

We soon reached a clearing and then, through another gate, we were by the side of a lake. In glorious full sunshine, we walked further along. On the right of us, tall, thick reeds covered the vast mere, giving sanctuary to the wildfowl and mysterious creatures that reside here. Only the occasional flash of wings, the sudden shake of reeds, the gulping sound of something in the water, and the unfamiliar calls of secret birds captivated our senses, making us acutely aware of this unseen world at our side.

On this fair day, we were amazed that no one else (not human, in any case) happened to be here, and we walked quite a way, lured further on by the temptation of what might be around the next corner.

There were several bird hides on this path, giving views through the reeds to small clearings, ponds, and waterways. A grey heron took flight, just a few feet away, and settled somewhere out of sight.

Further still, a series of small ponds, almost dried-up, lay in a hedge-lined meadow. Fen spotted a cute toad in the grass while black winged damselfly skimmed around the hawthorn.

There was something mysterious, almost disturbing, about this meadow, which played on my senses as I walked through it. Hemmed in on all sides by thickets and dwarf-like trees, I quickened my pace, and that inexplicable feeling soon passed with the strengthening sun.

We’ve since walked this route again. There’s always something different to experience especially as the season gathers pace. I wondered about the curious one-legged mistle thrush; a pre-occupied stoat; peacock butterflies sunbathing; a young hare testing its speed; and a reed bunting surveying the mere from the top of a slender tree.

Out there, upon the mysterious mere, amidst acres of reed beds, are untold tales. As I walked quietly by, and listened closely, those stories began whispering their secrets.

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Tales from the Riverbank

Lured by an enticing path just a short stroll away and a secret passage through a thicket, I find myself in a kind of Narnia.

From a bridge over the river, I see that way leads to way.

There are private roads flanked by large acres of farmland. Tractors occasionally travel along here kicking up clouds of dust. This expanse of land beneath the blue reminds me of the American mid-west. Soon this landscape will change as various crops emerge from the sun-stirred earth.

Stepping into the light, I’m on the dandelion-gold riverbank. No one else appears to walk here and although the path is richly green and seldom traversed, it’s a good, clean path.

There are herons and swans, and a pair of geese with their young currently sailing on the water.

The walk along the riverbank takes me to 7 acres of private woodlands. I have freedom to roam here to gather inspiration for my writing and, for this, I am filled with gratitude. It’s a magical place. I have yet to see the deer that live here although I’m certain they have already seen me.

At the end of this part of the riverbank, where the sluice meets the river, trees mark the boundary and offer shelter and shade. I can sit here for hours – days, perhaps – and not see a human soul.

I love it here. Having spent my childhood by the gentle curves of another river and exploring the once green pastures of land by my family’s blacksmith’s cottage, being here in the lands of my new writer’s nest immediately takes me back to that time and place before everything changed. This flash of recollection is significant. I feel I am again in a richly-natured place that enriches my soul. I have travelled the years and grown but I am the same essence and, more than ever, I am keenly aware of my soul’s light. Once more, I’m reminded that nature has a way of bringing us to our truth.

Life here answers to the elements, the rise and full of the sun, the moon’s cycles, and it all plays out in a glorious symphony.

I walk gently along this riverbank, listening to nature’s song, and gathering tales for future stories. Here, the world is very much awake.

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Swallows and Home-Coming

April came and went in a flash. For most of the month, Fen and I were pre-occupied with preparations for our house move. Despite moving several times in the past few years and despite having little in the way of household paraphernalia to take with us, it was still an all-consuming mission. New roads awaited us though and soon we were on our way…

We moved into the little terrace barn conversion that is my new writer’s nest on the same day that the swallows arrived. We took this as a good omen and a kind of home-coming for them and us.

Here in rural West Lancashire, we are surrounded by fertile lands of meadows and meres, busy hedgerows and secret woods, and a rich store of inspiration that is already tantalising my senses.

Birds twitter and flutter at my window, the resident peacock preens himself under blossoming pear trees, and ghost owls watch over me in my moon-lit loft.

Less than thirty short strides away from my door, one of two fishing lakes glistens enticingly. There are stories here that run deep into the earth and all the trees, of which there are many species I’ve yet to become acquainted with, are already whispering their tales. In my heart, I know this: I will write my next novel here.

Also in my heart is the sense of being at home, at least for now, which I haven’t felt in a long, long time. We are renting from a truly lovely family – good-hearted folk whose roots to the land run through many generations. It feels like a privilege to be here, although I’m always where I’m meant to be.

Being in rural England (despite just a short crow’s flight away from town and coast) means that the mobile signal is poor and, as I write, the Openreach magicians have yet to find a way of providing a fixed internet connection. It could take another few weeks before this is resolved – or maybe never. Anyone would think I’ve moved to another dimension. Maybe I have. It certainly feels like a magical, timeless place.

As my chosen word for April was ‘surrender’, I have found I’ve been doing plenty of that – in this instance, surrendering to the fact that communication channels are currently a challenge here, which means I have to carefully schedule online time for my projects and commissions. Even this is proving to be a gift. I now have long spells of quiet time to contemplate, imagine, and write without the distraction of constantly being ‘plugged in’ online. It’s only when surrendering to ‘what is’ that these gifts are revealed, and I’m adapting gracefully to new ways of being and doing.

From my writer’s nest, I see swallows flying and swooping on their stealth-like wings and sparrows enjoying a dust bath in the yard. The apple trees are wearing their crowns of blossom. Whatever the weather, this will be a good season of my life.

~ * ~

I have a new focus word for May, which I’m sharing with the Magical Kinship through my newsletter along with book club choices and magical moments. Perhaps you’ll find something there for you…

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Lonely Lanes and Sunny Glades

A cheerful warmth greets me on this mid-April day: a warmth that dares me to walk bare-armed, bare-legged in eagerness to feel those life-giving rays. White skin, silver hair might blind any onlooker so I quicken my pace to retreat to the lonely lanes and long forgotten paths where birdsong is orchestral.

Woodland floors, sluice banks and hedges are quickly greening now, punctuated with swathes of gold – ageing daffodils and bright new dandelions and celandine.

The first of the bluebells are teased out by the strengthening sun and tree branches are filled with ripening buds.

Already, the dance of butterflies begins – peacocks, red admirals, gatekeepers, speckled wood – and hoverflies and bumblebees grow merry on the sweetness of this advancing spring, seeking out sunny glades.

Courting and nesting birds are too busy to notice my passing. There are goldfinch, greenfinch, and chaffinch all in the same stretch of hawthorn hedge. I follow a flock of long-tail tits who rest a wee while on tender branches and then take to the air again as soon as I catch them up.

A buzzard flies across a recently tilled field and seems to hover, kestrel-like, for just three flaps of its mottled wings. There was something magical about that.

There is still coolness in the stern coastal breeze but in the sheltered spots of greenery, the sun crawls upon my pale skin and brings much needed warmth after a long winter. I dared to ‘cast a clout’ and I’m now dreaming of summer.

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The Art of Travel

I always feel ‘at home’ when I’m travelling. Despite the contradiction, my soul settles when I’m on the move. It’s when I feel the most present and alive and inspired.

I know why I prefer to travel than arrive. I know why this makes me the happiest. Travelling, whether by foot, car, train, bicycle or spaceship (why not?) equates to freedom and excitement. There is always the potential of something magical at every turn, and this is fine fuel for the imagination.

This need to be moving – travelling through the landscape (near or far) – is deeply innate. It probably goes some way to explaining my frequent house moves in recent years and this sense of never being totally settled in one place. I am content when I’m on my way, whether I happen to be on my way to somewhere or nowhere in particular.

I am a wandering star with a Romany heart. Haven’t I always known this? The roaming soul that I am is my natural state of being. Before I arrived on this planet, I have no doubt that I was wandering the cosmos with the freedom of a ghost bird.

As a child, I wandered for hours by the river and in the meadows close to the former blacksmith’s cottage that is my family’s home. Only the sound of my mother’s voice calling me in for dinner brought me back. Even then it was a reluctant return, despite the happy home and loving family that awaited me. My need to be on the move – exploring, dreaming, being – felt necessary for my well-being.

Even now, after prolonged, grounding stints of writing and project time, I become restless. Some aspect of my soul is always travelling. My imagination will take me beyond any wall; I can bi-locate quite freely… something we creative folks can do with relative ease. It’s not always enough though, and the irresistible art of travelling requires full and complete expression through body, mind and soul.

Looking way back, the prospect of a car journey with my dad was always a treat. This was an adventure on winter evenings when the world became a live picture book of moon-lit frosted land, running hares, narrow winding lanes, moth clouds, spooky trees, spookier owls… I was entranced by those small journeys, full of imagery and story, that took us wanderers from one village to another.

It is only in the past decade or so that I’ve realised how important travelling is to my creativity. While writing Light Weaver, for example, my ‘research trips’ were absolutely essential. The time I spent journeying and exploring the Lake District and the Cumbria / Lancashire borders offered sensory insights that found their way into the writing of that story, and I’m sure that is why I have such wonderful comments about the book. Perhaps, in some way, this novel re-connected my readers with their own free travelling soul.

In recent times, I’ve been experimenting with my camera while travelling (as a passenger I hasten to add).

The scenery and light is ever-changing and the resulting imagery is often semi-abstract, neither here or there, revealing glimpses of time-travel and the transience of the moment.

This creative experimentation is enriching my travels in unexpected ways. I find it endlessly fascinating and, at the heart of it all, I see it for what it is: a journey without end.

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