"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
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
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
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?