06 March 2016

What did I see that morning?

                                by Robert MacFarlane 

                                      from Landmarks 

What did I see that morning? Hot winter sun on the 
face's brink but seen as gold. Air, still, blue. Tremors 
at the edge of vision: quick dark curve and slow 
straight line over green, old in the eye. Intersection, 
schrapnel of down, grey drop to drop, flail and 
clatter, four chops and the black star away with quick 
wing flicks.

Let me tell that again, clearer now, if clear is right.  
What did I see that morning? A green field dropping 
citywards. The narrow track at the bronze wood's 
border.  The sun low, but strong in the cold.  Then 
odd forms glimpsed in the eye's selvedge.  The 
straight line (grey) the flight -path of a wood pigeon 
passing over the field. The fast curve (dark) the kill-
path of a peregrine cutting south from the height of 
the beech tops. The pigeon is half struck but not 
clutched, chest-feathers blossom, it falls to the low 
cover of the crop and flails for safety to a hedge.  
The falcon rises to strike down again, misses, rises, 
misses again, two more rises and two more misses, 
the pigeon makes the hedge and as I rush the wood-
dge to close the gap the falcon, tired, lifts and 
turns and flies off east and fast over the summits of 
the hilltop trees, with quick sculling wing flicks.

And let me tell it one last time, clearer still perhaps. 
What did I see that morning?  It was windless and 
late autumn.  The sky was milky blue, and rich
leaves drifted in the path verges, thrown from the
trees by a night frost and a gale not long since
dropped away . . . A thin path leads to the woods,
a path that I have walked or run every few days for
the last ten years, and thereby come to know its
usual creatures, colours and weathers. I reached the
fringe of the beech wood, where the trees meet a big
sloping field of rapeseed, when my eye was caught
by strange shapes and vectors: the long slow flight of
a pigeon over the dangerous open of the field, and
the quick striking curve of a sparrowhawk – no, a
peregrine, somehow a peregrine, unmistakably a 
peregrine – closing to it from height.  The falcon 
slashed at the pigeon, half hit it, sent up a puff of 
down; the bird dropped into the rape and panicked 
towards the cover of the hawthorn hedge.  The falcon
 rose and fell upon it as it showed above the surface 
of the crop striking four more times but missing each 
time.  I ran to get closer, along the fringe of the 
wood, but the falcon saw me coming, had known I 
was an agent in the drama since before it had first 
struck, and so it lifted and flew off east over the beech
tops, black against the blue sky, its crossbow profile . .
 . its 'cloud-biting anchor shape' – unmistakable in 
silhouette, as my blood thudded.

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