On my first day at a new school, aged seven, I sat next to a curly-haired girl with sparkly eyes named Rachel. I told her, apparently, I wanted to work with ducks. More than thirty years later she is my oldest friend and today I walked to visit her in the Watch House, half way along Blakeney Point, where every summer she and a pile of friends stay for a long weekend.
I love the crunch of the shingle under my feet as I leave the Cley beach car park; it tells me I'm stepping into one of my favourite places and my favourite frames of mind. The shingle is bright with yellow horned poppies and the almost-nothing flowers of sea sandwort (opposite pairs of untoothed leaves, Caryophyllaceae: how many weed workshops have I taught this week?). The sea is loud with Sandwich terns and little terns and an eider powers past. This is my first eider of the year, a male in soot-black and frost-white eclipse plumage, but he is eclipsed by the sun, the blue sky and summer.
Whimbrel trill by on sharp, dusky wings and black-tummied dunlin skip and flicker over the beach at my approach. Common gulls imperfect in primary moult are here too. This year, so young, so wet, so green, has turned and already these feathered Olympians are slicing our new-blue skies. South birds, south!
Some though are busy still. Little terns are carrying sand-eels to their chicks and passerines, encouraged by the sunshine, sing: a reed bunting chinks in the Suaeda, and meadow pipits its-wits-its-wits in the marsh. Over the sun-warm shingle a grayling flits, newly emerged.
As Rachel and her friends and I sit and talk, drinking Pimms in a theatre of hare's-foot clover, a hobby speeds by, more whimbrel too. And slowly, slowly, after weeks of workaholism, of doubt and of a great dark bird which almost stooped to slay this marsh tit, I begin to remember who I am.
I walk off the Point a new old me, under the cloud-streaked, soul-big vastness of my Norfolk's sky.
For this is what we do. Put one foot forward and then the other. Lift our eyes to the snarl and smile of the world once more. Think. Act. Feel. Add our little consequence to the tides of good and evil that flood and drain the world. Drag our shadowed crosses into the hope of another night. Push our brave hearts into the promise of a new day. With love: the passionate search for a truth other than our own. With longing: the pure, ineffable yearning to be saved. For so long as fate keeps waiting, we live on. God help us. God forgive us. We live on.
Gregory David Roberts
At regina gravi iamdudum saucia cura
Vulnus alit venis et caeco carpitur igni
Aeneid, Liber IV
New under a blue sky today