I sit often in the afternoons at Black Bank, an isolated spot out near the road alongside the River Trent, close to East Butterwick. As I do so I often recall that wonderful day in the late summer of 2012 shortly before I received my cancer diagnosis. The fields then were full of ripened golden wheat, reflecting the fullness we were feeling in our hearts. We were watching for ospreys heading South on their long and dangerous journey to warmer climes. Often, they had passed by this spot, and spent a week in the surrounding area, fishing for food in the many angling ponds round about. The day was golden, in more ways than one – the sun shone, the corn glowed, and all seemed right with the world. Little did I know that I was about to embark on my own own most dangerous journey of all.
We were the first to arrive that day, my husband and I, that is, complete with two dogs – rough collies. We thought we were to be alone. Not many people knew about this spot, and that ospreys could sometimes be seen here at certain times of the year. Suddenly, we heard the sound of an approaching motor bike, and as we heard it approach we knew it to be our friend, Roger, who was well known for his love of raptors.
“Seen anything?” He asked
“Nothing yet,” we replied.
We were prepared to wait all day.
I had become captivated some years ago by Lady, the oldest surviving breeding osprey in the U.K. The species had almost become extinct in our country at one time, but now, through the efforts of many dedicated people, they had been saved. I wondered if ever, on her way from her nest in Scotland to warmer climes, she would pass by this spot. This was her twenty second year of breeding, and each year, in the Spring, everyone waited nervously to see if she would re-appear for another breeding season. She was so old that it always seemed like a miracle now, every time she returned. A miracle of survival.
Three years later I would be again nervously waiting, to see if there had been another miracle of survival – my own. As I awaited the news, once again, I watched the webcam in the Scottish glen where Lady had her nest, to see if she returned, hardly daring to believe that she might, but knowing that if she did , I too would survive. She did return, and the very next day I was told that the chemo had worked, amazingly, since my cancer had been so severe and widespread, and advanced, and I had been expected to die.
The three of us kept our binoculars trained on the skies, and the distant hedges. It felt like a sacred spot. We knew that whatever happened, there would be SOMETHING there to see.
When not scanning the skies, we chatted idly. At one point I got the dogs out of the car, and took them for a walk down the tiny narrow lane that we were on. I felt exhausted, and hardly knew how to keep going. Unbeknown to me, the cancer in my body had already taken hold, and I struggled. The heat overwhelmed me, and I was glad to get back to the car.
As the afternoon, and the sun, began to die on us we realised that we probably were not going to see an osprey THAT day. As we were thinking about packing up and going home, suddenly, to the left of us, there was a dart of colour. Electric blue, and a kingfisher landed on a branch. Such a tiny bird – so different to the osprey – but just as thrilling. I had never seen a kingfisher close to, and my heart danced and sang as I beheld this wonderful sight. Its wings did not throb and beat powerfully like those of the osprey, and it did not soar high in the sky, but this tiny thing had a power all of its own. At that moment I felt I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life before. I was reminded of how, some years earlier, the kingfisher had proved itself to be a survivor too. It had been a long, hard winter, and the ponds had all completely frozen. So many birds had perished, and, as we shared our grief with the Park Ranger, suddenly, he exclaimed,
“Look at THAT.”
He pointed towards the bird table that was positioned just outside the Centre. We looked, but by that time it had gone. We remained TACIT, in our utter
astonishment. A lone kingfisher eating BREAD. We had thought that all the kingfishers would have perished, along with so many other species, as they only eat fish. But this lone kingfisher had found a way to survive – by changing its way of eating! On that day, I learnt that sometimes, in order to survive, we have to change our way of doing things, and do something almost unheard of. Surviving is not always easy because we have to be open to doing the unthinkable. But deep inside us, we all have a well, from which we can drink, and we have no idea that it is such a deep well until we are in dire difficulty, and as we attempt to drink from it, we find how deep it is.