Word from Wormingford

02 November 2006

wormy from standing

TWO MORNINGS in succession, I have moved the double glazing, and opened the bedroom window to free the wren and allow winter to come bursting in. Blasts of fine snow, amazing temperature.

The wren has taken refuge behind pictures and in the wardrobe, before perching on the sill like a high diver, then delicately taking off into the valley. Now here it is for the third time, fluttering around the furniture in the half-dark of 7 a.m. Well, I think savagely, you have learned how to enter; so learn how to exit.

But, since there is nothing as heartbreaking as a wren's bewildered wings and scratchy feet, I shift the double glazing, the casement, etc., and when both I and the room are shivering, the tiny bird stands on the sill, and, after being battered by a great gust of freedom, off it flies. In my grandmother's day, this would have been an omen, as would, of course, a visiting bee.

Given the ancient muddle of floorboards under the rugs, hugger-mugger from centuries of bare feet, and of the air crevices between the beams, not to mention the antique double glazing, how on earth should not an outsider enter?

Frequently, I have rescued trapped birds in the palms of my hands, where they pulsate like a second heart, and are all alive and exquisitely warm, but filled with terror. And sometimes I have to put up with a squirrel playing merry hell with the lagging in the roof, not to mention a rat, and wish that I possessed an ounce of Mrs Malone's charity, so as to go straight to heaven like her.

"There, there, little brother,
Ye poor skin-an'-bone,
There's room for another,"
Said Mrs Malone.

Eleanor Farjeon's poem says everything that can be said about giving house-room to winter callers. I sometimes read it from the Christmas pulpit to rich children. What if I perish from pneumonia for rescuing a wren - will I, like Mrs Malone, "Go in to the Throne"?

Wrens are quick in both meanings of the word, dartingly alive and fleet. And plentiful. "As you walk," wrote W. H. Hudson in his beautiful Nature in Downland (1923), "the brisk little brown bird flies out of the scanty hedges or from the sides of the ditches at every few yards."

And, three mornings, out of some corner of my bedroom. Had I been an old farmer, or especially his wife, for women seem to have been addicted to omens, I would have thought about my will, maybe, for omens were addicted to death. People were keen to know when they would die, heaven knows why. "Lord, let me know mine end, and the number of my days, that I may be certified how long I have to live," seems to have been the burial-service phrase that haunted them most. Thus a shoe in the wrong place or a bird in the hand or a bee in the bonnet would be God's answer.

Today's omens are medical and even more frightening. Superstition or science, often there is naught for our comfort. That is, if one leaves out the holy healing of Nature, that exhilarating sphere into which - without too much shivering and complaining - I release a wren. But not the butterflies sound asleep in the pelmet, for they would fall to the cold ground, their wings scarcely opening.

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