After the initial panic in March 2020, I went into solitary lockdown in Folly Cottage, with Ted the Cockapoo. For months, there were no vapour trails in the sky and almost no vehicles on the road. The sun shone, plants blossomed, insects buzzed. It was a glorious Spring and our tiny garden became a haven, an oasis of calm, its silence broken only by the chattering of finches at the feeders, the chorus of songbirds in the hedgerows, and the clatter of wood pigeons among the trees.
On a bright May morning, I sat outside with a cup of coffee, rejoicing in the exuberant bluster of a gang of goldfinches scrapping over a container of Niger Seeds, when a pair of pigeons began their aerial mating dance. They shot high into the air, twisted, turned, stunted and dived as if they were writing love messages in the sky, not as graceful as larks ascending but more ardent.
They repeated their performance daily for a week or so before taking up residence in a nearby copse, from where they paid frequent visits, perching side-by-side on the stone walls or strutting one behind the other along the ridge tiles of the garage. I grew fond of those newly-weds with their affectionate billing and cooing, bowing and scraping. Whenever I saw them, I felt my heart expand and a line from Wendell Berry’s poem The Peace of Wild Things came to mind:
“For a time / I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
When winter came, I saw less of them, although they would come to drink from the water trough now and again. As the cold weather drove me indoors, I turned my attention inward and I forgot about them until I took Ted out for a walk one grey March morning and saw the female pigeon lying dead in the road. It looked as though it had been clipped by a car, with broken feathers and tufts of down blowing in the wind.
On a fencepost a few feet away, perched its surviving mate. I’ve no idea whether pigeons feel grief, but the bereaved bird returned frequently to the fatal site long after the body had been removed. It mooched disconsolately in the garden and perched silently on top of the Shepherd Hut for hours on end. At first, the other pigeons in the area left him alone, but recently (nearly a year later) I’ve noticed two or three singletons sidle up to him, as if suggesting that it’s time he moved on. He flaps his wings and drives them away.
It’s as though he has forgotten how to be with his fellow-creatures.
I think I know how (I think) he feels.