Here is our hero, Horatio, the tiny herring gull baby, who is growing up on the roof, divided from the rest of his family since he fell from the chimney shortly after hatching, but attended lovingly by one parent or another and growing steadily every day, despite gasping for refreshment when it’s a bit too warm, hunkering down when it’s breezy and doing his best to keep dry. His condition is concerning at the best of times – for he is mostly alone and heaven knows what he is thinking; but, after what he went through last night, we really didn’t expect to see him again. Let me explain.
Yesterday turned out to be the hottest day of the year in Britain, though up here on the Northumberland coast we had rather a mixed bag of splendid sun, overcast skies and a continuous blustery wind which kept everything pleasingly fresh. So, while we listened to the out-of-touch-as-ever-when-it-comes-to-weather-forecasts BBC, rattling on endlessly about rail tracks buckling, office workers taking sickies and the wilting folks at Wimbledon, everything carried on as normal here. However, while the rest of the country got the day-time scorcher, we up here in the north east suffered its after-effects when, at about 1.30 in the morning, the drama of a massive electric storm – unlike anything we’ve ever seen before – began.
In the kitchen, Newman and I dug our heads into our bedclothes, hiding from the frightening flashes of lightning which brought a kind of daytime to the middle of the night. As the heavens resounded with cracks and rolling thunder, I could sense as I stole a peek out the cat flap the eerie stillness which had replaced yesterday’s wind, providing a scary backdrop to the drama of light and noise which tumbled all around us. Nico started barking at his first experience of the truly frightening and utterly baffling, the swathes of white light one moment, the fractured fingers of light piercing the black sky the next.
What could the infant bird be making of all this, we thought; his feeble frame and downy body, his incapable arms? Just when you’d think the night had done enough beneath the enormous moon, torrents of rain began to lash the roof and windows, a downpour in the truest sense, enough to drown the creature utterly, we surely thought. But there was nothing any of us, even a tearful Kemo Sabe, could do, as there never is when the little bird is so far above us and we are so useless below. In truth, though, as our thoughts of him contending with the hours of horror disturbed any chance of finding peace, we commended him to the Great Spirit, praying that somehow, however unlikely that might be, he might be spared.
And, wonderful to relate, he is. The herring gull family has triumphed again, though we shall never know how and, as this morning’s picture shows, all is calm and bright, parent on guard and chicks in order against a cloudless sky. Hang in there, somebody famous once said, and indeed Horatio did. He deserves a hero’s name because, like so many creatures, he faces life’s vicissitudes with equanimity and determination: a Wellington, or a Nelson. If only we could all be so brave. How ironic that King Lear’s words had never cut so deep:
Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these?
That we could care so deeply about a creature considered by many round here to be so insignificant and two-a-penny, if not a downright nuisance, says a great deal about the capacity to care.