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Roe deer bark in the forest

As I write this on a warm and sunny morning, my mind drifts back to the darker, wetter days of February.

I arrived at Satori on Tuesday, 6 February having seen only photographs of the retreat on the official website. In early February the Blackdown Hills have a romantic gloom to them, the skies gray and drizzly, the ash trees' branches contorting into strange and sinister shapes. The ash trees look barren, but they are not, as buds, said to resemble the feet of pigs, cap the end of every branch. In rare moments when the sun

punches through, sometimes leaving double rainbows hovering over the opposite hill, gossamer spider threads can be seen glinting from bough to bough. Whatever the season, the region is teeming with life. Nature never naps.

A pair of ravens patrol the area, their croaking a near-constant sound as one works (me as a volunteer) or relaxes (me at the end of the day) at Satori. Ravens are romantic birds in both the Byronic and lubby-dubby sense of that word, dark and rugged birds of dark and rugged landscapes, but also birds that mate for life. They even play (ravens have been observed sliding down snow banks on their backs, flying back up the slope, and repeating the action). It's a sign of higher intelligence that, in addition to focusing on the basic tasks of survival, ravens have room left over in their clever brains to indulge in recreation.

In February, when frosts transform the tall grass into something pleasingly crunchy underfoot, we await the return of our summer birds. The swifts are presently somewhere in southern Africa, the cuckoos in Sub-Saharan Africa. Chiffchaffs, blackcaps, and swallows are all somewhere down south, although by late February they might already be beginning their long migratory journeys.

Nonetheless, even in February a dawn chorus greets the early riser at Satori. Robins and blackbirds sing throughout the winter. Blue, great, and coal tits chatter and occasionally burst out into full-fledged song, as if impatient for the official arrival of spring. Chaffinches flock along one stretch of road halfway between Satori and the center of Churchinford; a rookery lies a bit farther beyond. Goldfinches gather in large, chittering flocks just up the grassy hill from Satori's Primrose cabin and Daisy yurt. Canada geese spiral down into the pond on the neighboring property, honking constantly. Buzzards circle overhead, often unhappily accompanied by the carrion crows and jackdaws that mob them. Wrens, which house in their tiny bodies attitudes bigger than that of those buzzards, pierce the air with garrulous melodic burble; a pair are already investigating a brush pile as a possible nesting site.

But on my first night at Satori it became clear who the real avian stars were. Tawny owls call from everywhere, a cheerful nocturnal commotion. It sounds like there are half a dozen of them out there, though I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing one.

Throughout the night, roe deer bark in the forest, foxes shout out in their peculiar half-dog, half-human way, badgers and hedgehogs slink stealthily through the woods and fields, and the neighboring cattle moan and moo, a sound that startles at night because it is at a near-human frequency, and then makes one laugh because cows are inherently funny.


Volunteer, 2024


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