Country diary: life is at a standstill but the bees are still buzzing

Country diary: life is at a standstill but the bees are still buzzing

Life is at a standstill. Homebound stasis forces me to look at the patch of the countryside I should know the best, but never looked at hard enough. Which, now, is a lifeboat of certainty on strange seas: the world beyond the walls.

I find a small spot in my garden, and for half an hour, on three days, stand still. Nature ceases to be expansive, but immersive: a column, a few feet all around me, from the ground to the sky, in which to look, and listen.

This new ritual falls fortuitously on days of change. Days that are breathlessly still, with that sunshine that gilds the edges of everything, the year’s first real warmth. Of sweet smells, sudden unexpected lines of light, and shadows of rich black.

The spot is next to a small cherry blossom. I look up past its branches and there’s an azure aperture of sky. Across one side reach the arms of a silver birch, fibrous catkins hung like rotted robes. Across another, a horse chestnut tree, its silhouette just beginning to thicken with leaf.

It’s the bees that draw me at first. I can hear them from 20 metres away, and up close it’s a frenzy. The cherry is in saturated bloom, and the bees are intensely interested. So nervy, non-committal, but dutiful. Into the blossom just long enough, then on to the next hesitantly selected recipient. Like the lobby of a busy building: purposefully in, an indecisive linger, purposefully on.

By the third day the cherry blossom is beginning to desaturate, to turn russet. The bee symphony is quieting, the job done. But the horse chestnut has burst to life. Brilliant emerald leaves hang like splayed hands. Suddenly, there’s new shade.

Only the sky seems devoid of activity, but then a gift. I spot two red kites on the edge of this view. Meandering in flight, flirting with each other’s wing tips. I only ever see the odd one over the garden; never two. And here they come. Riding the warm thermals, they drift into my narrow field of sky: white flashes underwing, the occasional pirouette from silhouette.

Life is at a standstill. But, of course, it isn’t. It’s only we who have stopped.

Simon Ingram

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