On Sunday morning, to the glorious soundtrack of Mahler’s Symphony No 5, we found our imaginations soaring with the aerial antics of our house martins. The morning was very warm and sunny, a wonderful change from the dank and murky days we’d endured previously. The plankton of the insect world was rising from the fields and with them – as the second movement swirled into life – our martin family, whose darting and dashing and dry chattering around and about the rear of the house nabbed our attention, so we watched in growing amazement at both their presence and what they were doing.
Having emerged from their nest at the south of our house, the family was flying free over the garden and over the patio, rising and falling, transfixing us – we poor earthbound things – with their agility and purposefulness. Their noisy calls from on high drew our attention to their clinging in twos under the eaves. It was as though they were practising for an air show, pushing off into a round of flight before returning to the precarious foothold above the windows, where the lintel provided a generous half inch of solid ground to which to cleave. What was all this about?
Kemo Sabe was the first to notice that where the little creatures had been holding fast, brown blobs were apparent, muddy blobs which certainly hadn’t been there before. Nest building, or practice for it anyway, was underway. Was this to be a new nest, an additional one for the younger generation or for new arrivals to the colony? The adagietto gave us time to think.
Only the day before, having breakfasted as usual, our little blue tit family had upped and quit their fur-lined nest-box under the wild rose. The parents began undertaking much longer flights to serve them, nipping over the fence, high above the neighbouring gardens and up the lane to an oak full of the caterpillars they love which we can clearly see from upstairs. It felt then, as Mahler’s music unfolded loud and clear, as though the inevitable sadness of losing our daily visual commentary on the vicissitudes of the blue tits had been assuaged by the invention of the house martins, whatever they were up to – and still are – as the days roll by and the blobs in one area coalesce into the base for a nest.
Whatever the answer may be, we cannot hold, or truly understand, any of these creatures, any more than we can explain in words why this sublime orchestral exploration of life’s light and shadows is so electrifying and why, as we watched their spirits unfolding in the sky, its twists and turns enhanced and expressed the birds’ activity to perfection that Sunday morning. We thank you Radio 3 for this auspicious choice. Most of all, we thank you as warmly as we can, Herr Mahler: has there ever been a composer so life-affirming, so all-embracing, so moving?