The route I took with the dog this morning was busy. Maggie and I paused at the far side of the bridge, to let a family of five amble past. We waited a few moments longer, until they had rounded the bend and wandered from sight.
Just as we too rounded the corner, an older pair of walkers approached. I turned, stepped off the path, rested against a wooden two bar fence. I looked down across a steeply sloping field and beyond, the river. In the distance, dark tress, bare-branched, stood against the grey-blue sky.
There was a blackbird in the field, close to me, camouflaged against the brown beech leaves and twigs in a scrubby, brush covered patch. The blackbird saw me, cocked her head, decided I was no threat, and began to dig through the leaves and loam. The couple had passed me by but I stood, leaning on the fence, watching her.
She buried her beak, tossed leaves here and there, paused for a second, carried on. Hoped a little further, did the same again. A blackbird elsewhere sang out and she stopped, cocked her head, and resumed.
I watched her. She hopped, tossed leaves, hopped again. It had rained yesterday. There would be earthworms close to the surface, working through the leaf mould. This blackbird looked sleek, well-fed. She knew what she was doing.
I wondered about her partner, where he was. They mate for life. They build a new nest each year, have one or two broods, watch them fledge, then get on with simply being a blackbird.
This mother to be, now, bulking herself up, maybe. She would be nesting soon; it is nearly March, and mild. Time to lay her clutch. She would be reliant then, for a couple of weeks, on her partner bring her enough food to sustain her as she protected the eggs, waiting for them to hatch.
A blackbird might fledge ten chicks a year, for each of the years she lives. The babies hatch, and fledge after only around 15 days. Such a short time. There cannot be room for emotion in such a short transaction. There is only one message; go, be a blackbird.
I wonder how it would be to be so detached from the process. A nest of blackbirds tucked in the roots of an old oak tree is not a family. It looks like one; here are parents, here are chicks. But there is just necessity of feeding. I am a blackbird and I have made more blackbirds. Not I am a parent, and this is my child.
I want to feel that this blackbird hen, crossly flicking leaves, looking for worms, has something in common with me, a trans-species acknowledgement of motherhood, of the loss of each chick. But there isn’t any. Instead, I raise my face to the weak February sun, and breathe in. What we have in common is that here we both are, today, sharing a scrap of muddy grass under the promise of spring. That will have to do.