I write my Wild Yorkshire nature diary for the Dalesman magazine five or six weeks ahead of publication so in the past week I’ve turned my attention to the October article, which really makes me feel as if summer is coming to a close!
Usually I have plenty of material to sift through but last October we’d only just got over selling my late mother’s house and we had so much on that Barbara and I managed only a book delivery excursion to the Peak District and a couple of days in Scarborough.
With such a short time on the coast, I tried to draw whenever I got the opportunity but that meant that I didn’t get around to writing many notes, certainly not enough for my 800 word Dalesman article.
Luckily while I was perching on the sea wall at North Bay sketching rocks and birds, Barbara was sitting on a bench nearby writing in a pocket notebook, so I’ve filled in the blanks in my article from her observations.
It reminds me of Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy: she wrote meticulous descriptions of the scenery and natural history that they’d encountered on their walks and he’d put them into verse, implying that he’d been wandering ‘lonely as a cloud’ (except for Dorothy following him and scribbling in her notebook).
I’ve got the chance to be more productive than Wordsworth: I don’t have to lie on my couch ‘in vacant or in pensive mood’ because I can get my ideas together using my favourite writing program Scrivener, which is set up so writers can drop rough drafts in, rearrange them on a virtual corkboard and then go into a full screen, distraction-free writing mode (that’ll be the day, when I don’t get distracted!).
Even so it took me a couple of sessions to polish up the article so that it flows but, even using Barbara’s notes, I’d only got to 500 words. Having set the scene on the coast I didn’t want to change the location to the Peak District or to our home patch to finish off the article.
As I drew last October I’d been amazed to see a kingfisher fishing in the sea, diving in from a concrete post, so I decided to write a little more about that. I looked up the kingfisher in Birds of the Western Palearctic but even in the twelve pages of closely written notes of this nine volume handbook I couldn’t spot a suitably fascinating fact that would draw my article to a close.
Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and Cassell’s Dictionary of Classical Mythology weren’t all that helpful either but then I remembered my favourite study of the roots of classical mythology, The White Goddess by Robert Graves. I’ve still got the copy that I bought as a student. His explanation of the myth of the kingfisher mentions the account written by Pliny the Elder, the Roman naturalist, which I was able to track down via Google. Pliny describes the floating nest that kingfishers were believed to make at sea during the calm halcyon days of December:
“Their nests are truly wonderful; they are of the shape of a ball slightly elongated, have a very narrow mouth, and bear a strong resemblance to a large sponge. It has never yet been discovered of what material they are made; some persons think that they are formed of sharp fish-bones, as it is on fish that these birds live.”
That struck me as the perfect way to round off my article.
Scrivener writing software.
Dalesman Yorkshire magazine and visitor guides.