Dungeness Summer 1979
A cupboard in the common room houses all of the old daily log sheets. On quiet afternoons such as this I open the cupboard doors and take out the bound volumes, year-by-year, and immerse myself in the observatory’s history. The earliest I can time travel is back to 1952 and with that year chosen I remove the musty document from its storage space. I treat each page as if it is an illuminated relic from a monastery. These 27-year old sheafs before me seems much older. I recognise some of the observer’s initials. Others I do not. Are these people still alive? Do you think somebody will take down the volumes from 1979 in the year 2006 and pour over my writing in this same manner? I have a reverence for the past. Each entry in this log reveals the highs and lows of those sober, well-mannered ornithologists. What would they make of us today?
I’ve been up since 4 o’clock this morning and until early afternoon have been single-handedly manning the mist nets. A net round involves a considerable walk from the observatory to the sallow bushes, zig-zagging through the vegetation to then return to the ringing room. I meander from net to net, brushing against the Sticky Groundsel that does just as its name suggests to my jeans. Scented wafts from the Water Mint jerk me out of my increasing daze. Maybe 10 net rounds have been carried out and a combination of the strength-sapping shingle, the warmth of the day and my early start has left me feeling tired. It hasn’t helped that I have been getting up at dawn for at least a fortnight and early nights to catch up on sleep are something that I don’t contemplate – there’s too much to enjoy and waste these precious weeks. I’m not catching much in the nets anyway so I take them down. I now am about to embark on one of life’s simple pleasures – an afternoon snooze. Not a lie on the bed though. I have a much comfier place, out in the open but hidden away from those that wander across the shingle. There are a series if craters in the shingle, some six to ten feet deep that are about the size of a bath. The grade of shingle is at a size that is comfortable to lie on. Some of these craters also have a bed of grass and moss. I stretch out on the chosen crater bank at a 45 degree angle, close my eyes and fall into a delicious snooze, not a deep sleep but I hover in a state of semi-consciousness. I’m aware of the sun warming me, of bees lazily buzzing by and bird calls that swim in and out of register. I will stay here for maybe an hour until I finally arouse from a spell of sublime slumber. There is something luxurious about this type of stolen sleep. Maybe it’s the fresh air or the rays of the sun that result in a therapeutic bathing of the soul.
Calm, sunny, warm and I don’t have a care in the world. I have been over to the Oppen Pits and am meandering back over the shingle towards the bird observatory, very much content and lost in aimless thought. You really are on your own out here, private land with no public access. I look into the sky and in my vision hangs an adult Little Gull that is slowly drifting by only feet above me. The thick warm air is silent. I don’t know why but for those few seconds everything in my world is perfect and at peace and during this special interlude I am not only totally aware of it but fully appreciative too. A birding aquaintence, Bob Smith, has confessed that he is always searching for those rare moments in the field when it doesn’t matter where he is and what he is watching, what is more important is feeling as if he has blended into his surroundings to the point that he is at one with nature. With this Little Gull I understand what he means.