Exmoor Almanac                                                    


The dipper that afternoon by the Exe

threaded a high necklace of song above the river’s onrush.


Dived in and re-emerged, shaking its wings clear of the water,

sang once more, blink of silver in its eyelid.


The first blackbird flirting sotto voce with Spring

makes radio-contact out of holly and ivy


and the song-thrush fashions small ivory statues

in triplets that echo in Withypool churchyard.


From burnt-out bracken in a hailstorm

the wren has become a tight bobbin of song, a spinning jenny.


Snow banks deep over the sunless combes and high roads,

a buzzard pluck mews out of the gut-taut air,


raven and carrion crow with their dark sprach

press down hard on the black keys – snow-fever chatter


of fieldfares and redwing in the fields of ice. One morning

wind swings west till a chiffchaff, then another,


hang their abacus of notes along the Haddeo and Horner.

On Preyway Meads the planetary calls of golden plover


meet the first larks high up drizzling balsam from the gods  –

jitterbug of Dartford warblers on North Hill, stone-tap of stonechat.


From branches in back gardens a willow warbler lets

slip a yellow lace scarf of sound that drifts across the Punchbowl


as blackbirds delve deeper into their arias, their coloratura,

poetic champions composing variations that time cannot catch.


One dawn, on the whim of a trade wind, a cuckoo at Three Combes Foot

arrives, distilling spring and summer into its beech theatre:






two notes, older than the barrows, older than Caratacus Stone –

cuckoo the ventriloquist popping coconut-heat in the gorse,


conjurer with his cackle as cumulus sail their time-pieces across

the blue and tree-pipits all morning parachute their song


above Barle valley woods with their dynasties of lichen.

Pied flycatcher, redstart and wood warbler make vocal the light

on water

                                                                                                                                      Chetsford clings to its whinchats, Tom’s Hill its tail-flicking wheatear.

Nightjar, the goatsucker with his moth-frequencies, churrs at dusk


above Ley Hill, tuning the moon’s radio-set along a branch at nightfall.

Silent August rounds robins up to light the first braziers


of autumn, the dipper sewing its silver again by the river

as if all this could never cease.


Graeme Ryan 2018