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Word from Wormingford

03 May 2013

Ronald Blythe takes time off to enjoy a picnic with the birds

"WE WILL have breakfast with the nightingales," Romane announced; so off we drove through the waking town. Except for us, everyone was going to school or to work. The suburbs ended abruptly; then came a kind of overture to the marshes and rivulets, with tall, greening trees, after which appeared a far distant coast that the sea had torn to ribbons over the years.

We set up our meal on a little gorse plateau, and already the nightingales were at their chook-chook-chooking and piu-piu-piuing, though unseen. The coffee and rolls had stayed hot, and a white-and-blue tablecloth had been laid. The gorse was in bloom with a vengeance. When Carolus Linnaeus first witnessed flowering gorse, they said, he burst into tears, overwhelmed by its glory.

Far ahead, dominating the watery land was the tower of All Saints', Brightlingsea. It stared down on Alresford Creek and across to us, making itself felt as became the church of a Cinque Port, and a solid thing in a fluid landscape. We talked in a desultory fashion about what should, or could, or must not happen to our living back home, and seemingly in another country.

More and more nightingales sang; more and more marshes glittered. The sun stoked itself up. We sampled Marit's marmalade, and felt irresponsible. Now and then, seagulls were blown about over our heads.

I found myself remembering a figure from these parts, the Revd Gerald Montague Benton, an archaeologist, one of those learned men who blinked through their glasses and whose apparent easiness and civility concealed an iron will where faculties were concerned. What brought him to these salt marshes, to this liquid meeting of earth and sky? Amazingly, his parish church had been shaken to bits by an earthquake, in 1884. But the instability of things remained apparent. Also the brightness of things.

Sprawling above the crashing Atlantic Ocean in Cornwall, I saw no point in ever doing anything again. Be a layabout - cease. Listen. But then we must get home for lunch. The white cat, who is sloth incarnate, will be lying on her warm brick wall, starving to death.

And I must take a hundredth look at my white and purple fritillaries. Never so many. They are blooming in the orchard, and on old grass paths, along with countless other wildflowers. The long cold winter held them back, then the spring said: "Now!" And thus this racing flood of blooms. The ancient ash tree is suddenly young again, every twig ending with fat buds, and the mower goes at first pull.

We all sit in the chancel at matins. The cold interior has preserved the prolific Easter flowers and distilled their scent. The Epistle is St James's reminder that "Every good gift, and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." What language!

What is actually coming down at this moment is the first spring rain. It drenches the lambs in the far field, the joyful dogs, the conversing horses. It ruffles the surface of the ponds, and polishes up the view. St James speaks of self-deception, of our being hearers and not doers of the Word. He is so beautiful in his reproaches. Who could not take him to heart?

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