These pieces of Thumbnail Nature writing are the output from a pair of hour-long nature-writing workshops in which we wrote about looking up at nature above our heads and trying to grab your reader’s attention from the first line or sentence. Enjoy!
Amanda Tuke – workshop leader
Bird radar can’t cope! Swirling mayhem showing on the screen. It caught the kestrel dropping like a slow-released plumb-bob, tracked six slow-motion lapwings. It wasn’t foxed by the flap, flap, glide of the marsh harriers or the kiting kites. But myriad starlings, murmurating magically? No chance! System overload. Sensory superabundance.
Scud. Thud. Yuck! Stop pelting me with snowballs!
Silhouettes and shadows stalk the silver stag antlers above my head. Comet clouds streak across a pinking sky as the sun sleeps all too soon. Squinting, I spy him.
Time for bed now, Mr. Blackbird!
The faintest sound accompanies that slightly creepy feeling of not being alone. A shadow flickers across the ceiling. I calculate the intruders size, small enough to fit through a 4” gap. It saves me the trouble of getting up, swoops down, peers into my face. “A robin” I exclaim.
“Are they in torpor?” I ask.
Above a cloudless, birdless sky
yet royal blue, glittering in sunshine
Barren treetops, empty limbs, no bird song
A small plane hums and passes overhead,
Its wings and sound no substitute
for my lovely winged friends.
I ask, “Am I in torpor, too?”
A line of ferns floated above me in mid-air. A miracle? Not really. The oak’s thick branch, four metres up, coated in luscious moss, had given birth to a nursery of ferns, fronds splayed in anticipation like greedy nestlings. Ground dwellers had found themselves a desirable first floor residence.
Desperate for embrace.
Skeletal trees – stripped back to bare bones –
arch over the path to each other.
Baby blue ceiling painted over with ash grey.
Winter has redecorated.
Iced through the locked gates,
removed Autumn with its warm temperatures and fancy colours,
locked Sun in the cupboard.
Good Morning Deer
He stood in the car park about five meters away. He looked up, dismissed me before returning to his task of eating the hedge. I took his hint or, was it a command, fed him apples and carrots. Task over, he sauntered off to his next provider.
Distempered clouds pleat the sky this late afternoon. A sharp winter sun bores through them, dazzling but without warmth. Cilial tree branches spread inky silhouettes upwards, and a brilliant-white gull cuts diagonally across the view. Snow arrives slantwise too, out of nowhere, in dizzying flakes of torn tissue.
I’ve been pulled up short! Partly by yet another 4×4 (regular school rat run; nose-to-tail parking), but more by the colours above. After days of frozen opalescence, a sky of zingy neon blue. Juxtaposed, the snow-dusted knuckles of pollarded limes, joyfully punching the air. Road rage abated!
A riptide of white tears across the sky, breaks up the monotony of oceanic blue. Common gulls, which circle wide then disappear. Still, I curse their tailwind for the frosted minutes lost. My buzzard dives unseen, its line a perfect plumb drop, easy as roadkill, frozen in memory.
Sarah Hill Wheeler
Flickers of rosy pink feathered light at the top of the sycamore tree. Ebbing and flowing, in and out among the twiggy brances. Maybe ten individuals, apart but together, a miniature flock. Binoculars reveal not some exciting rarity but the local starlings, their iridescence touched by the low winter sun.
Ha ha! cried the triumphant jackdaws. They thought they’d seen off the recalcitrant gull who’d ruled the pinnacle of their clocktower for a quarter hour. But I saw the gull peer down, check the time, and sail off, late for an appointment. The clock is always five minutes slow.
What’s this I see
from the corner of an eye –
something strange, soft lit.
Such a scare!
Swaying in chilly air
in the porch outside,
with hairy arm
or leg maybe…
Ghost or alien,
where’s your harm?
Why – it cannot be –
Snow on the ground,
Ice crystals in the sky.
A group of cloudlets known as a mackerel sky.
Golden sun sets,
cirrocumulus evaporates and is less.
A central eye of grey cloud forms,
Plane cuts through and the manmade vapour trail deforms.
But cirrus clouds will be born!
Six? Six! I have never seen so many, swooping over and around the farmer making hay. And so close: to me, the ground, each other. I see forked tails. Red Kites! Mice and moles’ bad day: their homes dug up, then picked off by raptors. Right by my garden gate.
In the heart of this city?
I follow the startling song
From balcony to balcony.
“A caged bird” my husband replies.
“Welcome, welcome” enthusiastic calls from a waiter.
I spy a house sparrow!
Singing a tuneful melody.
The waiter is bewildered.
My husband frustrated, needing his lunch.
Jane Swann White
Crow’s splayed wings rudder his precise landing onto the top branch of the oak which bobs and stills. He tosses a worm into the nest, an upturned Siberian fur hat, balanced in a crook. Waaah, waaaahh, the homecoming choir sings. Caw-caw, he replies into the pinking sky.
On the Taff embankment, I step back into the cool shade pooled under two limes so that parents and children can chatter past on their way to school. Looking up into the nearest tree, I see glossy-green polypody ferns growing from a darkened cleft between branches three metres up, and, in the centre, an adventurous tuft of wheat with swelling fruit.