*Lead photo credit at end of article.
We’ve finally given in to pester power, and got a puppy. Our sixteen-year old son Jeffrey researched breeds and breeders, saved up the eye-watering cost himself and, after a long wait, Alex the labrador/retriever arrived two weeks ago.
I want Alex to give Jeff a sense of responsibility, as well as some light relief while he’s studying hard for his GCSEs. It’s working—but only up to a point. That point includes the moment my husband leaves for work at 5am each morning. No matter how hard he tries to creep out silently, the puppy always hears him.
With his tiny bladder kickstarted into action, somebody has to get up and stop him leaking in the house (I’m talking about the puppy now, not my husband)
According to scientists, teenagers need lots of sleep. Jeff agrees, and as I’ve been an early riser all my life it’s not worth the hassle to try getting Son No. 1 out of bed so I take the dog out first thing for him. That doesn’t mean to say I don’t groan, but at this time of year I can at least enjoy listening to the last owls of the night, and the first strains of the dawn chorus while I’m trailing around the garden while waiting for Alex to perform.
Photo by Ronald Slabke https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Woodcock_earthworm.jpg
Our wood is noisy at this time of year. Before it’s properly light, woodcock fly along the forest rides croaking like frogs, in territorial displays called roding. As it gets lighter, the resident birds tune up, followed by the summer visitors. We get the odd warbler overwintering, but hearing chiff-chaffs and blackcaps tuning up at the beginning of April is a real taste of summer days to come.
The loudest announcement of spring—and the one everyone wants to be first to hear—is the cuckoo, but those are getting scarer each year
When the children were tiny, we’d often track down cuckoos in the wood, or see them being chased across our garden by jays. The cuckoo’s streamlined wings, long tail, and smart barred feathers make it easy to mistake for a sparrowhawk. That alerts every prey species, but it doesn’t stop female cuckoos managing to lay an egg in the nest of any little bird that doesn’t sit tight.
The cuckoo’s favourite host species around here was always the little brown and grey dunnock, otherwise known as the hedge sparrow. One year, a cuckoo chick spent some time squatting on one of our fence posts, calling to be fed while its frantic foster parents tried to lure their enormous baby back into hiding in the hedge. We still have any number of dunnocks in this area, but it’s been years since anyone saw a cuckoo.
I listen out every morning during spring, either during my running sessions or while puppy-sitting Alex
Waiting for that first spring shout takes me straight back to a freezing, dark day in a winter not long before my daughter’s first birthday. I had flu, and she was teething. We’d both been up all night. The baby finally fell asleep at around 3am. With sleet spattering against the kitchen window I made a cup of tea, and switched on the radio for the news headlines.
A piece of music I’d never heard before was playing, but it held an instantly recognisable call sign. The tune was On Hearing The First Cuckoo In Spring, by Frederick Delius. Whenever I hear that tune now, I remember how it encouraged me look forward to spring while I was still suffering and sleepless in that cold, dark kitchen.
AntPDC has created a slideshow on YouTube from his own photography to illustrate On Hearing The First Cuckoo In Spring. It’s one of my favourites.
Frederick Delius - On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring
I hope you like it as much as I do. It’s my soundtrack as I work on my next newsletter of writing news (and puppy updates!). I’m including a lovely recipe for orange polenta cake as well, so if you’d like to receive a copy, mail me at christinahollis(at)hotmail.co.uk replacing the (at) with @, and put the word newsletter in the subject line.
What are your favourite signs of spring?