Dry ground, blue skies!

Vegetation through a window, lush beside a stream


Picking something up from the Post Office in Swanage this morning was not without incident, as the swifts were flying in close formation low over the houses, shops and road. At times they were screeching just a few feet - it felt like inches - above our heads. If these are the new birds of the first brood of the summer, they are mighty adept at flight already.

Lying side by side in the shade on the rather parched grass of the garden, relaxing for ten minutes after lunch, Helen and I were looking up into the trees as the sunshine filtered through the green canopy. There, against the blue sky, were the swifts again, much higher now, circling the church tower, whilst at the snail’s-eye view of our perspective the white butterflies exuded the happiness of the high summer sun. Much more strongly appear the freshly hatched new red admirals, that will be with us until November. The daily sightings of holly blues in the rectory garden, that we enjoyed from late April, through May and into June have disappeared, but it’ll not be that long and a fresh brood will recreate that fluttering impression of flakes of cobalt sky caught in the breeze.

Naturally everything is dry; really dry. The ducks can stand up in the river, but still it trickles down to the shore and carries its glinting light to the greater glory of Swanage bay.

Helen has just popped in to say that she is going to pick some veg from the garden: peas and broad beans, I imagine, and plenty of salad leaves. I am going to dig some potatoes soon. They will fall from the dusty soil, hopefully not too scabby from the drought. How many times have I dug spuds in Ireland covered in mud? They’ll not have that problem this year. In the fields above Belfast, earlier this week, we saw sights that have not been witnessed for some time: meadowsweet, buttercups and rushes emerging from parched land, sun-baked and hard; the cattle, not treading the lushness of boggy peat, but standing hot in brilliant Mediterranean glare. We need rain across the country, plenty of it; and there is little forecast. How can it be Wimbledon fortnight!

John Mann

A much-later P.S.  It's 9.30 p.m. and twenty swifts are above playing tag in the sky; a late dinner in the garden with courgette, peas and beans, raspberries, black and white currants grown within five yards of where we sit; the sky is salmon pink over the downs and catching the vapour trails high above them; a shining aircraft disappears towards tomorrow, and the scent of the sweet peas hangs upon the cooling air.