I think I may be crepuscular. It’s one of those words that are pleasing to pronounce and refers to animals that favour twilight. It also means dim and indistinct so make of that what you will.
I spent a wonderful couple of hours last night sitting out on the boat enjoying the transition from wet and dreary afternoon to clear and perfectly calm evening through to starlit night. It was magical. First I was struck by the silence, then the stillness and finally the sounds amplified by the silence. You need silence first before you hear the very small sounds that normally go by unnoticed and you need the complete tranquillity that brings the quiet in the first place. It doesn’t happen often and there aren’t that many places where it works in this small busy country called England so when it does happen it’s special.
Dragon flies were still active among the reed beds despite the cooling air moving as they do in their unique acrobatic way. I love how they fly to a precise spot in thin air and stop momentarily before accelerating from a standing start in pursuit of their prey. It looks fun. A small fish broke the surface of the water in apparent chase of something as it skitted in wild directions more out than in its natural medium. Then silence. For a few moments nothing moved, nothing broke the spell, I became aware of my own heartbeat, struck by the absence of any other sound. Then the train came.
The main west coast railway line runs alongside the canal in this area and although it was a mile from our mooring the sound of the passenger and freight trains carried through the still evening air to break the peace from time to time. Somehow it seemed to enhance the experience. Each train would begin as a distant, indistinct sound, a roar made feeble by space and time but gradually it would build to a crashing, grinding, speeding, spinning crescendo before fading to nothing and rendering the quiet even more stunning. Gradually my ears re-adjusted to the new status and the small sounds returned. A pigeon took flight from the trees behind me and I could hear the distinct squeak of its wings accompanying the more obvious flapping sound. Some distance away the distinct, high pitched ‘chik, chik, chik’ of a blackbird told me that something was causing it concern. A cat or stoat too close to its nest or young perhaps. A drama unfolding out of sight as the light began to dwindle.
All around me colour was fading now. Greens, blues, reds and yellows were all losing their distinction as the night robbed them of their brightness and reduced everything towards the same inevitable shade of dark. Mist began to form over the expansive open area of the canal that gives this place it’s name, Tixall Wides. Pale and mysterious it gradually enveloped the nearby boats and moved towards me chilling and damp. Gill opted for an early night but I was determined to see the drama out and the first stars that would announce the end of the show.
I moved to the back of the boat and glass in hand, concentrated once more on soaking up the quiet atmosphere. The view out of the open window now was almost monochrome, crisply outlined black leaves and branches of the trees decorating the icy cool sky. A sudden flash of movement caught my eye and moments later the first bat came around again on its quest for supper. Its crazy erratic flight was hard to follow and identification even more difficult but the small size and its commonality suggested the tiny pipistrelle. A pair of young swans were mooching among the reeds looking for a late night snack. Their paddling feet could clearly be heard as could the tearing of vegetation as they fed. Finally, the sound that makes any night like this complete came to me from distant woodland, tawny owls calling out, declaring territory no doubt. I had to strain to hear them but there was no doubting the distinctive sound. Finally the first star appeared as if from nowhere. It was so bright I wondered why I hadn’t see it moments ago and before long it was joined by a second and a third. Gradually the constellations were forming as the night time took hold. The arms of The Plough were now just visible in the darkening sky whilst its blades were still buried somewhere in what was left of the daytime.
A late night freight train rumbled into earshot shattering the moment once more. The show was over and my glass was empty. It was time for bed.