Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Transition to evening

The swifts deliver stereo, a whole performance played out in the evening sky above me. Each scream, high-pitched with a rough and rasping edge, whizzes over and away at speed. The sound enters one ear, builds and then passes to the other like some carefully crafted accompaniment, best heard through headphones. Looking up from my book I see them, many more birds than the occasional drawn-out scream suggests; tiny, black bodies that scythe through the air on wings that beat rapidly and then solidify from blur to the solidity of a fixed-wing glide. Every now and then a group of these rapturous dogfighters wheels over in a low arc and I hear the rush of wind on their wings.

Five swifts blast onto my sky canvas from behind the towering of the next-door semi; a sudden jolt of noise that makes me jump in my seat, so sudden is the appearance. As they bank they flash from black to silver like shoaling fish in a vast ocean that stretches away to the deepest blue.

Even here, not far from the centre of town, there is a stillness that descends with evening and with it the sense that the transition from day to night is approaching. The air feels heavy and moist, the dry drones of daytime insects replaced by the flutter and whirr of the first of night’s moths nectaring on the flowers around me. Occasional noises from the back of the border suggest that larger creatures are also stirring, perhaps the wood mice that abuse my shed, raiding the bird feeders and amassing a winter store amid my carefully-arranged clutter.

A nearer movement gives the sense of being more lumbering than the skittish movements made by mice and I watch its progress as the moving vegetation points to a likely emergence at the border’s edge. Soon the source of the sound appears; a toad, replete and welcome. May he have a productive night feasting on the slugs that plague my tender flowers and vegetables.

By now my book lies face down on the table, the light faded to a point where reading is no longer possible. My ears pick up the sound of a feeding bat, the high-pitched echolocation calls still registering on my ageing ears. Every now and then I catch a glimpse of it as its silhouette flicks across the sky. It looks like one of the brown long-eared bats that catch yellow underwing moths and then carry them to the shelter of the passageway. There they will perch on the wall and remove the wings before munching noisily through the moths succulent body. It is time for me to head inside and tackle the final chores of the day.

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