11 June 2022

Tea and animals at dawn

At seven o'clock the blackbird flew in like a small dark missile and landed abruptly on the lawn, yelling quietly as he settled and clucking occasionally as he began his breakfast foraging. The pre-dawn light had just begun to illuminate the birch so its main branches gleamed like white gold; the sky was smudged with hazy clouds suffused with salmon and mauve and grey against the idea of blue. I'd wrapped myself in merino and fleece and thick down and I was drinking unsmoked lapsang souchong tea, savouring the biscuity flavour, and I was warmer than on any morning I could remember since discovering what had become a morning ritual. I can't say the ritual had been intentional: I'd simply begun to sit outside first thing in the morning and gradually the practice became more regular and I began to enjoy it even more, so, as the mornings grew darker and colder I continued to sit outside drinking tea. Eventually the days shortened sufficiently so I found myself watching the dawn arrive, darkness lightening, the sky taking on colour, the birch beginning to glow, the early bird catching the worm, ducks and pigeons and starlings speeding across the dawn, the drab and faded colours of the neighbouring roofs and walls and fences lit briefly with soft light like the elegance of a Joel Meyerowitz photograph. The whole time, a thrush sang in a leafless poplar. When the sun finally slid above the unseen horizon so direct rays lit the tops of the trees and the highest houses, the magic vanished; the colours lost their subtle spectacular elegance; the world once more became possessed by humans. I'd pick up the empty tea bowl and jug and the small blue sitting pad and the Traveler's Notebook and pen roll and go inside. The blackbird carried on hunting for worms.
Sometimes as I sat there next to the small wood-and-iron table by the back door I'd hear the click of paws on the vinyl floor so I'd get up and push the door open  and a small whiskery face would look up at me and Guston would trot out onto the concrete pad. If rain was falling, or had recently fallen, he'd stand right at the boundary of dry and wet. He'd stay there as if making up his mind which was worse: the discomfort of getting wet or the discomfort of needing a pee. Sometimes, getting wet was clearly worse. If the lawn was dry, though, he'd be out there doing his rounds, sniffing his garden for evidence of cat-trespassing. Usually he'd ignore me until he'd completed his mission; only then, and not always, would he stop to greet me on his way back inside. I don't mind being ignored by animals, though: I like the reminder that they're not ours, that the attention we receive is a gift, that the value of a dog's affection (or a cat's) is because they can choose to ignore us if they wish. I love the lack of respect some birds have for us and wish we gave them more reason to consider us not worth bothering about, but, sadly, I can't see that ever happening.

From the farmland beyond the edge of town I heard a barrage of gunshots as ducks were shot for sport.

Note: Guston is a miniature Schnauzer. He's not mine but we get along famously.

Photos: 1. Next door. 2. The actual blackbird on the actual lawn. 3. The birch on a windy dawn.

Photos and original text © 2022 Pete McGregor