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Singest of summer in full throated ease

For many years I have longed to hear the song of a Nightingale.  I put the word out amongst my country loving friends.  A year passed.  Late one summer evening the phone rang.  ‘We have a Nightingale in our wood at the moment. He doesn’t sing every night but you might want to come over’.

Dusk fell as I arrived.  We walked through the wood together and she showed me the tree - a large cherry. ‘I’ll leave you here’ she said and quietly retreated to the warmth of her distant farmhouse. I looked up. Surely the tree was too large for such a bird - preferring as it does the low scrubby cover of a copse.  I decided to trust my threadbare knowledge of its fovoured habitat and stumbled on through the remnants of twilight.  Barbed wire, a five-bar gate, thistles, damp nettles and steep ankle-testing uneven slopes. Operation stealth without the silky smooth voice over of Ray Mears.

Darkness fell. The silence thickened.  A silence that made the rough exhaust of a distant car as intrusive as a hacking cough in an expectant auditorium. A thick, rural, mist-rising, Ted Hughes, Bible black, Sunday night silence.  A late train roared past, peppering the gloom with its rapid burst of illuminated windows.

Time slowed and damp began to creep into my joints.  I glanced at the recorder.  Its steady red light saying ‘ready whenever you are’. Three planes flew overhead, their rasping engines seeming to hang below the stars for ever.

Peace sank slowly back into the field. A distant pheasant coughed. Suddenly there it was.  That unmistakable bright fluting sound.  A repeat of four bars and then silence.  Another four bars and silence. My hand fumbled for the record switch. More silence and just as I began to worry if I had enough battery power, the darkness burst open with heart stopping song. Once heard, never forgotten. Endless trills, fluting, keening and triplets, bursting like champagne bubbles into the night sky.

Far above, the females flew north over the dark countryside.  Perhaps one night he would be lucky. Perhaps one would hear his siren call, flex her wing and peel off into a spiralling descent, drawn to the source of his bubbling liquid song, that sears the heart of anyone who has heard it.

Title from John Keats Ode to a Nightingale


Kevin Redpath