We buried my great-uncle today. Had he lived another week he would have been ninety-five. His was a long, loving and loved life and when his end came he was ready. As we stood by his grave a posse of long-tailed tits trilled through the trees, a coal tit called and a nuthatch tapped out a hollow morse code. He, and my great-aunt who died some years ago, would have liked these birds coming to his quiet funeral. She was a friend of the bird artist Jack Harrison and once brought a capercaillie, which she had found dead on a Scots road, back to Norfolk in the boot of her mini for him to paint. The painting hung in the home my great-aunt and uncle shared. On another occasion, in the fledgling days of WWT, Peter Scott took her onto the grounds at Slimbridge to show her a vagrant red-breasted goose. She described the scene to Harrison and that picture too hung in their home.
They would have loved the long-tailed tits about his grave and the enchanter's nightshade, over which we walked, sticking its seeds to our suit trousers.
At the service in lofty Salle church I was struck by the simple wisdom of the second reading, which my uncle himself had chosen.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Ecclesiastes 3, 1-8