A small blue bird of grace
If you have known me a while, or have followed this blog for any time, you’ll probably know that for me the kingfisher is a sort of talisman. It’s a sign of things beyond feathers and beak and general bird-ishness. Which isn’t a word but you know what I mean. There’s connections to the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, As kingfishers catch fire, and a couple of other things as well. They’re not particularly rare birds, though rarer than they should be, and many people have never seen one in real life. Their habitat and feeding needs mean they are only found close to water. At this time of the year, the dearth of small fish in their usual hunting grounds sends them downstream towards the coast and you have more chance of seeing them there, perhaps fishing amid rock pools or in the streams that empty onto beaches.
I haven’t seen one for a couple of years. I used to see them on a regular basis while I stood on the bridge across the stream in the glebe meadow in the village a couple of miles across country from where I live. But that changed, and though I have walked down there fairly often (less often this year), I haven’t seen or heard one there in over 4 years. I keep a record of this kind of thing in a note book; it’s dedicated to my explorations of all things related to the Grail. The last mention of a kingfisher is from July 2016.
t goes without saying that 2020 has been a terrible year. Globally, nationally and personally, a bugger of a year. I don’t have any sense or expectation or hope of things getting any better quickly. Or, on a bad day, at all.
Today I took myself off for a walk. Inevitably, because this is Britain in October, it hammered down with rain when I was five minutes out. The washing was out on the line too, but I decided an extra heavenly rinse would do no harm and I carried on. The rain brought out some glorious scents and when I reached the glebe meadow, the stream was in full flow. Brightly coloured leaves drifted down from some of the horse chestnuts on the banks. Raindrops made expanding rings on the running water. The music of the water chuckling along and the sound of waterfall over the sluice gates half way up the meadow made a baffle to the noise of occasional traffic. After ten minutes, I headed up to the waterfall and stood watching it. I’ve often made a wish, a prayer, to see a kingfisher, to be given that sign of connection, but I knew that the residents here, if any remained, will have already headed down to the coast.
Then, to my amazed ears, I heard the distinctive cry, turned, and saw the electric blue back of a kingfisher as it flew downstream. I had not asked directly for this, just, as almost always, had a vague but heartfelt desire to see it again. Today was no worse than many days where I have craved that comfort of connection to the Other; why was it given today and not on the days when I was in utter despair?
I cannot tell. Such a gift (if you believe in these things) is a gift of grace, not given because you deserve or desire a thing, but because it is what you need at that moment more than anything you might consciously believe you need.
A kingfisher, said to be the first bird to fly from Noah’s ark after the deluge, supposedly received the orange of the setting sun on its breast and the blue of the sky on its back. It was considered a symbol of peace, promising prosperity and love.