On Hearing the First Cuckoo of Spring

Kit Hill, Cornwall

23 May 2018

The quarrying of granite was in full swing when Delius composed his famous tone poem in 1912. Using oboe, clarinet and strings, he mimicked the call of the cuckoo and painted a masterly musical canvas.

An image of rural beauty, such as can be seen and heard on Kit Hill today.

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For the quarry has long since closed. The heart of the hill may live on in lighthouse and London bridges, but the sound of hammer upon tare and feather has faded into the Cornish air. It is a place of silence now. Of murmuring winds. Of bee song.

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Kit Hill (Cornish: Bre Scowl) dominates the skyline between Callington and the Tamar. From here, one can look across a tapestry of fields towards the tanned tors of Dartmoor, view the glinting ocean and count a myriad engine house stacks, peppered about the pastures of a verdant landscape. Its name is derived from the Old English word for kite; and buzzards still ride the thermals on a warm afternoon.

An afternoon such as this.

Late spring sunshine bathes the campion, cow parsley and bluebells which line up to form a patriotic guard of honour along the path to the quarry.

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This is my home country. Haunt of my childhood and haunt of generations who have come to this place to swim. To soak away the heat of the day. To skinny dip under a Cornish moon. To be together. To be alone.

To become immersed in still water. Immersed in an alternative universe. Shielded from the known world by steep walls of stone. Where worries can be discarded like unwanted blocks and allowed to sink down into the greenest depths.

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Which is why I have come…

Plagued by knotted muscles and a knotted mind, I am here to unwind. To unload.

Launching off, I am attracted by the sight of lichen crusted branches reaching out to soothe swollen arthritic fingers in the limpid water. I am reminded of mangrove swamps; an image made all the more real as I peer into the shallows, teeming with tadpoles.

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For here I spy the olive and green form of a horse leech (Haemopis sanguisuga.) Cradled in my palm it writhes and loops before attaching a gaping sucker to my finger. But its teeth cannot penetrate human skin, so I enjoy the moment. A literal connection with nature. Despite it being an hermaphrodite, I decide to name ‘him’ Larry. Larry the leech. And I fancy we are friends as I carefully set him down in the silty mud.

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I swim back to the heart of the lake and float with only my thoughts as company.

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On my back. Hands behind my head. Legs crossed. Drifting. Dreaming. Hearing each breath whenever my ears sink below the surface. Feeling the breeze stroking my skin. Floating with the seed heads. And every bit as aimless.

Early evening sun floods the quarry, turning rowan blossom to gold, as shadows slide across the ragged rock face.

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Four frog kicks and I am back in the sandy, stone-strewn shallows. Shorts drying on hot rock. Where ferns unfurl and butterflies meet buttercups.

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I startle to a call. A cuckoo. Close and loud and lovely.

And there it is. In front of me. Most elusive of birds.

Landing on a weathered post. Tail fanning on descent. Barred underbelly to mimic a sparrow hawk; curse of the meadow pipit, dunnock and reed warbler.

But a gift to me as I watch and hear it call again and again and again. And then an answer; distant but distinct. And another. And another.

As if an orchestra were being conducted.

In this concert hall of creation.

 


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