My husband is excited. ‘There must be fifty birds around the feeder. Look at all the starlings!’
I look. They’re too big for the tower feeders. Instead, they’re foraging for spilled seeds on the ground.
It’s only November. This is only the first really hard frost. I can't help but note that the starlings are concentrating very hard on finding bits of millet in the grass. And I don't really want to note this. I don't want to notice this at all right now. I want to get on with my weekend.
My husband doesn’t know why I’m not thrilled. ‘There’s loads of them!’ he says encouragingly, as I turn away.
I say, ‘Yeah,’ and smile. I can tell he feels rejected.
But I don’t want to explain to my townie spouse that the starlings should be much fatter right now, fed up to the brim with moths and flies, with slugs and snails. When I see their fierce concentration about scrounging a few millet seeds, I don’t see abundance. I see scarcity. And I become overwhelmed by grief.
I think of rising food costs and wonder how long I will be able to keep all these birds alive with my feeders. I will miss the birds when they are gone – and the birds that depend all summer on insects are going, there’s no doubt about that.
It was late June before I saw my first swallows overhead, and they were scarce, because there’s nothing much for them to hunt. When they stop coming altogether, a little more of my heart will break.
Once, I told him all about this, coughing it into the shoulder of his t-shirt as I gulped out my words; nose streaming, eyes streaming, mouth a slobbering mess of grief. But he doesn’t really remember that, and didn’t really believe me or understand my emotion then. Now, he certainly doesn’t connect the one to the other.
So few of us do.
Watching a documentary the previous weekend, there was footage from the seventies… a walk through a forest clearing in California. Whoosh! Up fluttered thousands of butterflies. The abundance of my youth was suddenly there again as normal, and in contrast the present was once again revealed to me as a barren wasteland. The family were rapt in the film – about an influential but virtually unknown musical group. I turned my head a bit to mop the tears from my face.
My daughter noticed, looked a question. ‘It was the abundance,’ I whispered and they nodded, accepting Mum’s oddities.
Earlier that morning, I’d gone to charge the car. A deer, deformed in death, lay by the roundabout, it’s black liquid eyes open, staring forever into mine. I hated myself for driving. I hated myself for being human.
A little further down, a badger. The deer was probably hit by a car. The badger was probably killed by a farmer and dumped. I was rock-bottom certain that both their lives were, at this point in time, much more valuable than my own.
Climate grief, it’s called. And I carry it with me always. I am the person who, when discussing the weather with another dogwalker, brings up the collapsing Jet Stream. I am the one who keeps talking about the council’s new solar panel buying programme. The one who rushes home from the dog walk to get binding, to try and mend a small tree snapped by a vandal. The one who shouted at a child in the park for breaking a branch off another. Like any grief-stricken person, I am sometimes totally unreasonable. I am also aware that I'm carrying a shadow with me, into every conversation, into every moment of my life.
Now, I go back to the window and stand with my husband, looking at the lean starlings. He smiles sunnily, feeling whatever had held me back from my usual excitement about the natural world has now gone. ‘Isn’t it amazing?’ he says. ‘I love the markings on their feathers. They’re beautiful.’
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘Yes, they certainly are.’