Tuesday, 23 January 2018


Although I have always enjoyed watching and learning about birds, it was on my birthday exactly ten years ago today that I first "took up" bird-watching as a regular activity, on a family wander around Newmillderdam, a nature reserve outside Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

Most of the birds visible that winter morning were bluetits - birds well known to me already, but which, in my newfound persona of serious would-be ornithologist, I eagerly scrutinized through the lenses of my binoculars, dazzled by their smooth collages of sapphire and gold, slotting in and out of branches like pirouetting harlequins, six to the dozen.  Later, I would learn that these birds were so frequent as to be regarded as nothing special in the eyes of "serious" bird-watchers , but I have never paid much heed to the vagaries of the snobbish world of twitching, and remain entranced by the beauty of bluetits whenever I see them.

But the sighting which stood out for me that day was not a bird sighting at all, but that of a weasel - weaving through the stones in the shallows of the lake.  It was the first time I had seen a weasel, and the animal inspired a poem which would find publication on the American website In Possee Review that September, and would eventually appear in my 2014 collection Random Journeys.

I had been struck by the weasel's willowy verve, its flexibility as the furry frame seemed to bend and twist with the water, swerving through the current with both determination and grace.  As far as other humans were concerned, the sighting was entirely solitary  - my fellow walkers were all some way off, as I had sauntered far from the official path and felt myself the sole audience of this shape-shifting mustelid, and so as the words of the poem began forming in my mind it seemed natural to address the poem to, rather than about, the weasel - indeed, when In Possee Review published it, they placed the piece in a section of the website called Conversations.  I will relay our conversation below.


I found you in mid hunt,
in search of eggs,
or unsuspecting voles.
All in a moment
I saw you slide
a tangled thicket,
like an elongated
pint of lager,
gingery flanks
licked by a frothy rim
of white,
a lithe half-yard
of fur:
probing reed beds,
eyes primed
you sensed me,
uncoiled, flash-like,
snuck beneath a clump
of sedge and nettle
and vanished into undergrowth.

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