Winter treasure 13: Blackbird Song

18/3/2018 It is the penultimate day of winter. This year the equinox falls on 20th March instead of 21st. You wouldn’t know it though: the arctic conditions have returned. The temperature dropped from 16˚C to -2˚C in 24 hours and the ground is covered in snow and ice.

But my winter therapy seems to have worked: I don’t mind if the cold weather lasts a little longer, and my list of winter treasures has grown so long that I will have to resume the project next year. In fact, I have enjoyed the challenge so much that I am thinking of continuing it for the remaining seasons of the year; and, contrary to my initial assumption, I think I might find it more difficult to choose 13 spring treasures than I did winter ones. After all, how do you identify the most important elements in a bombardment of euphoria?

My peace with the return of the cold weather isn’t only to do with my enjoyment of winter, of course: the delay in the arrival of spring means – with any luck – that there will be a delay in its departure. Spring is undoubtedly my favourite season, and the later it extends into the year, the better, as far as I am concerned. A large part of my excitement is anticipation, and that is in no short supply at the moment.

Choosing my last winter treasure was difficult. I sensed that as we neared the end of the season, I would lean towards the strengthening signs of spring. Certainly, in the last week I have seen the first blackthorn blossom, the first spring-flowering cherry, the first periwinkles, the first moorhen nesting on the front pond… But in the end, I had to choose the music I had been waiting for since January.

I heard it in Spain at the end of February, and I heard it more than a week ago in a nearby town. But I was waiting for my own blackbird. Finally, on 14th March, I was rewarded as I arrived home at dusk. From beyond the barn roof, the unmistakable, fluid beauty rang out. I stood listening for a few minutes, and then decided to retrieve my sound recorder from inside the house, hoping it would continue until I returned. I managed to capture only two phrases of the magic before it dissolved into another blackbird’s indignant alarm calls sounding from somewhere behind my head.

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We are blessed with one of the most beautiful, and sometimes comical, songs in the world. And I am sure the blackbird’s musical and comedic virtuosity are not lost on him.

At the beginning of the season, I wrote that the robin’s song is made of ice, and the blackbird’s, of water. There is something fitting about rounding off the season with a thaw in the air, even if the thaw on the ground hasn’t begun yet.