There’s something about the reappearance of snowdrops that feels superstitious. On the 21st day of the 21st year of the 21st century, the numbers didn’t seem to add up to anything auspicious compared to the everyday tragedies of Covid and climate. The augury of circumstance felt like a bygone curiosity.
So why summon owls? Blowing through the thumbs of my clasped hands, after a few out-of-practice splutters, one surprisingly loud hoot provoked responses from the woods. Two were close, but another three answered from further away. The owls sounded irritated; perhaps they were identifying themselves to each other, numbering in the dusk. Five, four, three, two streetlights down the hollow, one yellow daffodil bulb, half a moon. The previous night’s snow had melted, except for on the distant hills, and the brooks all rumbled through their culverts to gush down the dingle and join the River Severn in flood. On the wooded ridge above, yew trees gathered darkly around an abandoned quarry. Finding it, wandering there by instinct and trespass, felt like discovering the remains of a lost civilisation.
The excavations were made by hewing, breaking and hauling limestone. The sunken tracks, pits and quarry faces were labours of the long-dead. The yews surrounding them may have belonged to an ancient grove and the shadows they cast filled the holes with mystery. A raven kronk, deep and resonant, sounded through the leafless canopy. Then a second raven: a strange, high-pitched call. Answering with a clicking noise sometimes draws a response, so first and second ravens then called around the sound of a third. Maybe they thought they knew who it belonged to and recognised a passing acquaintance, but this was not the well-travelled, public world of roads and open spaces.
If this hidden place belonged to a lost civilisation then it had been reclaimed by those returned from exile. They were older than the ghosts of quarry workers, older than the walls built from what was taken away, old as yews. Perhaps the dark, damp holes of the quarry inspired an irrational attitude to the auspices of birds and trees, a natural magic moving through the branches in the rain. It was just a superstition.
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