Having spent much of the day in the house, the weather outside a succession of heavy showers, I feel a need to go out and get some air. It’s late afternoon and a suggestion that the sun might be breaking through gives me the impetus that I need and I head down to the river. The walk is brisk, easing the stiffness from my joints and clearing the day’s paperwork from my mind, and I cut through the still dripping wood and strike out towards the meadow.
I like this bit of the river. It is off the beaten track and you have to pick your way through rank vegetation to rediscover its meandering course. The scattered Alders chart the river’s route through the meadow and I am soon settled on the bank, screened on three sides by nettles and rough grasses. Because movement through this bit of meadow is difficult and noisy, it is impossible to approach any animals or birds without scaring them away. I find that the best approach (as it is in many habitats) is to find a suitable spot in which to settle and to wait patiently for the wildlife to approach you.
I have not long been settled when the sun fades behind a thickening blanket of cloud, heralding the approach of another squally shower. At first the smooth surface of the river reveals just a few spots of rain but then, increasingly, the ripples coalesce as the rain’s intensity increases. With several layers of clothing, including a goose-down jacket and a waterproof, I will be dry enough but I hunch forward, drawing my legs up to protect my camera bag. From under my hood I still have a good view and watch the approach of a male Muntjac. He has not seen me, or if he has, he has mistaken me for a large grey mass, perhaps a rock or unmoving pile of decomposing vegetation. It is wonderful to be able to watch unseen, the deer browsing intermittently as it passes by just a few feet from me.
The rain strengthens further, becoming a rush of hail, noisy on my hood and reducing the visibility such that I lose sight of the Muntjac. Just as quickly as it arrived so the hail halts and, soon after, the rain too. A Grey Heron drifts in on broad wings; legs held below it drops to the opposite bank. It seems unsure but I cannot tell if it is my presence or the fact that there is no obvious route for it to take into the water, such is the growth of emergent bankside vegetation. The heron lifts itself away with strong strokes and the river is mine alone.