I didn’t get that perfect picture. But I got to watch.
It was a clear morning and the stars lingered. Ani and I got back from her run in the half light, frozen and in need of warmth. I switched on the kettle then, on impulse, grabbed the camera and got in the car, driving up to the top of the hill and one of the few places to park on the narrow, winding roads. The field gate faces east over the valley and from there you can watch as the sun rises over the Chiltern Hills and the ancient Ridgeway.
I drove past the spot where a snowy owl had one flown up over the car one afternoon on a long ago adventure we had not realised was about to begin. Of course, once was gift enough, but I cannot drive that way without looking even now.
Fingers had barely thawed with the heater as I got out of the car into the icy blast of a frosty December morning. Dawn itself was still a good half an hour away, but the pre-dawn light is so beautiful it didn’t matter.
As I switched the camera on the familiar keen of kites filled the morning and a pair glided into view over the field. I can’t really explain what these birds mean to me. I can wax lyrical about their grace and mastery of the air or attempt to convey the synchronicity of their presence on our adventures. I can write in symbols of the hawk of the morning and the joy in their wings. I can tell of the initiation into the land we felt they had bestowed on that first magical dawn at Uffington. None of that is enough.
I stood with tears chilling my eyes and watched. I ’missed’ most of the shots a dedicated photographer would have got. It doesn’t matter. So close they sailed I could almost have touched them. I could hear the air part with their passing. Eyes met mine as we shared a dawn, the birds and I, in a silent world of light and fire.
I watched until they passed on, the dawn almost forgotten as the sky cycled through pastel to flame. Fingers useless with cold, I got back in the car heading home. A hawk flew up from the road and I turned down the tiny lane that leads to Nether Winchendon, parking by a field entrance. Two more kites played as I watched, flying low over the frozen earth and tumbling together in a dance of sheer exuberance it seemed.
As I turned the car for home I felt blessed by the gift of the morning. Yet that, it seemed, was not enough, as a pair of buzzards sat on the hedge, flying up across the windscreen as I slowed the car. So close, so slowly that I could see the markings on the soft feathers of their breasts and the light in their eyes.
I drove home, uploading the pictures with tears coursing down my cheeks and a ball of indecipherable emotion in my chest, a feeling that persists even now. There are moments like that, when beauty calls. All we can do is listen and obey.
And then we know its grace.