‘The last combing of the day goes from the sky and the bird is silent. The owl calls’

Ian Niall’s nature writing powerfully evokes the sights and sounds of the high wood at night, when ‘half of the world goes to sleep and the other half awakes’. Ian Niall is the pen name of the Scottish author John McNeillie who wrote over 40 published works and many articles, mostly on nature and the outdoors.

Extract from ‘Fresh Wood’ in If The Corncrake Calls
By Ian Niall
Published by Neil Wilson Publishing

Over the brow of the hill. Do you hear the bird singing in the high wood? Down below it is dark, night among the elderberry bushes and the blackthorns. Summer night in the high wood, warm and alive. In the little patch of sky the leaves of the beech look black and flutter gently. Out on the turnip field it is impossible to see the rabbit or the hare but the leaves rustle and tremble, the yellow weeds sway. The night is full of the little sounds that mark the season, the flying beetle’s note as it goes off speeding through the gloom, the cry of lambs on the grass hills, a restless dog barking in the hollow drum of a barn or a cart-shed, the far-away and yet weirdly near sound of two countrymen talking at a road end. The bird sings and some oddness in the air makes its heart happy. The last combing of the day goes from the sky and the bird is silent. The owl calls. The wood sits brooding, sheltering its bird life, its millions of insects. The tawny owl flies, the wild cat hunts. Who has time in his life to discover how far the rabbit ranges at night, the territory covered by the hare? Who can tell what world the owl sees as he perches on the stump like a ghost, or why he does so when he is so lately out of roost, for night for him is day and day night? Does it become a brighter place of monochrome, like moonlight, and does he sit contemplating its beauty and peacefulness? One half of the world goes to sleep and the other half awakes. Here in the crumbling bank the wasps’ nest settles. It is not completely dormant. It is still alive, vibrating, humming gently. Part of the pattern of night and day, scavengers of sticky jam pot shards and midden refuse, food for the badger, distraction for the honey bee, grubs for the hungry fish, a hot noon fury to warn the browsing beast away.

If The Corncrake Calls by Ian Niall is out now (PB, £12.99) published by Neil Wilson Publishing.

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