Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Ben Dolphin: Rhythm and blues – nature’s undisturbed cycles bring comfort in the chaos

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Tony Hamblin/Flpa/imageBROKER/Shutterstock (5301526a)
Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella), adult male, drinking, standing at edge of pond, Scotland, United Kingdom, Europe
VARIOUS
Mandatory Credit: Photo by Tony Hamblin/Flpa/imageBROKER/Shutterstock (5301526a) Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella), adult male, drinking, standing at edge of pond, Scotland, United Kingdom, Europe VARIOUS

“Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel”

That was Day 1, now it’s Day 2 and I haven’t slept. I’m awake at 5am when a thrush starts singing, so clear and sharp it sounds like it’s in the bedroom. I can’t remember hearing so vivid a song, or ever listening so intently.

Ben Dolphin.

The curlews return to the hill in the third week of March almost every year, and so their clockwork consistency on Day 4 is wonderfully reassuring. Next day, as I leave for work, I check the fence post for the yellowhammer. Yep, he’s there again, singing “a little bit of bread and no cheeeeeese, a little bit of bread and no cheeeeeese”. He was clearly in Asda the same day I was.

That afternoon I come face to face with a roe buck in an urban woodland. He doesn’t seem surprised, so we stare at one another for a full minute before he remembers to retreat. Driving home later that night, bars and restaurants are told to close. It feels ominous, but next morning on the radio, Shereen Nanjiani picks hearing a blackbird’s song as her uplifting moment of the week. Something is happening out there.

Day 7 is a low point. I feel bewildered, disappointed, angry and scared, and at work the next day there’s an unspoken, nervous anticipation of the inevitable. When the full lockdown comes that evening, it’s not a surprise but it’s still shocking in its implications. Exercise once a day, they say.

On Day 9 I’m told not to come into work, but this isn’t a holiday and by Day 10 life already feels listless. Day 11 and..…does anyone even know what day it is? Thursday? Friday? I’m not sure and neither is Twitter.

Day 12 dawns, and before I open the blinds I realise I haven’t the faintest idea what the weather will be doing. I haven’t checked a forecast in days. They’re irrelevant now, because I’ll be going for my walk regardless. Walking is rationed, so I make damned sure I stock up every day in case it’s taken away completely.

On Day 13 the local car park is coned-off and the hill falls silent, but even on the stillest, snowiest Sunday mornings it never sounds as quiet as this. ‘Tsip tsip tsip’ go the meadow pipits, and as the second week comes to a close, primrose, celandine and coltsfoot bring yellow back into the world. Nature, eagerly escaping its winter lockdown.

On Day 15 I fetch my computer for ‘home working’. The roads are quieter but people are walking in the strangest places now they have no choice, along formerly dangerous A-roads without pavements. Buzzards glide quietly over the empty laybys, emboldened by the absence of traffic.

That evening, on my walk, I stumble upon 22 golden plovers. In 10 years living here I’ve not seen or heard a single one, and a local farmer remarks he’s not seen them here in 43 years! Coincidence? Probably.

Day 16. My first day working from home is also the day the wheatears return from Africa. In the absence of much-loved office chit-chat I’m surprisingly productive, but it still doesn’t take much to distract me and on Day 17 I excitedly rush to the window after hearing the unmistakable ‘pe-peeep’ of an oystercatcher. They’re rare up here. The first bumblebee then drones past.

As Week 3 ends, posts appear on my Facebook feed from friends who’ve lost someone to Covid-19. Till now it’s all felt distant and unreal, like something happening in another country. Daily stats are cold and impersonal, but friends of friends are dying, and I’m struggling to reconcile the intense feelings of comfort and reassurance I’m deriving from the natural world during this crisis, with the horror of what’s happening out there. It’s heartbreaking.

On Day 22 many of my online pals seem to be looking towards the heavens for solace. Folk are hundreds of miles apart but we’re all seeing the exact same thing. A beautiful full moon, just one of many expressions of unity just now.

Week 4 brings wood anemones, toad mating balls and the first wee lambs. It’ll be summer before we know it at this rate. Temperatures rise and so do tempers, as police motorcyclists chase folk away from the car parks. If anything it’s even quieter, and when a very rare vehicle drives past as I walk along the road, the driver waves at me. I wave back. That’s never happened before but now it happens twice in two days. It’s like being on Islay. Island-like.

Into Week 5. We’re told this can’t last forever, but for now the routine is set and this has become our new normal. The unchangeable has changed in the blink of an eye. Life is smaller but less intimate. The state is bigger but more precarious. Uncertainty rules, and yet everywhere I look, everywhere I go, I see natural cycles spinning on regardless. In uncertain times, I wonder if that’s the only certainty there is?


Ben Dolphin is an outdoors enthusiast, countryside ranger and former president of Ramblers Scotland

Already a subscriber? Sign in

[[title]]

[[text]]