• Gordon MacLellan

A curlew's whistle

Sheilings at Fionn a Ghlinn

Curlew, collier, courlie, awp

Calloo, whitterick, faup and whaup,

Whistle the whistler, seven whistlers,

The seventh whistler,

Singer of the dead, calling the Hounds to the Hunt

And the Hunt to the Hill.

World Curlew Day has passed for another year but the birds are still there echoing their calls over the hills. If you get a chance, go and look for them (yes, follow the social distancing guidelines!), listen for them, watch them on a social media platform…but whatever you do, enjoy the world around you.

Curlews, like most of the animals around us move into and out of cultural palces. Plant or animal, they share the world with us. We see them, hear them love them, loathe them, use them, are sued by them. They also slip into our language, our stories, our thinking. So the curlew’s echoing call is sometime thought to be the voices of the souls of the lost dead or to be the cry of the hound sof the Wild Hunt racing across the sky (geese calls do the same). Look at the birds you see form your window (if that tends to be pigeons, use them! They are fascinating!) and see what you can discover from their essential natural history to their place in language (“pigeon-toed”, and more) and their place in stories from cultures all over the world

A Chance of Curlews

Tidemills, East Sussex, March 2020

A cold March afternoon,

Brisk wind and a lowering sky,

Walking the shoreline; the

Debris and paraphernalia

Of docks on the horizon

And a grey sea.

We overlooked their quiet

Brown presence, until

A bubbling pipers’ chorus

Alerted us to a perfect

Synchronised take-off.

Thirty pairs of wings beating

In unison, legs still dangling,

Not yet horizontally tucked

For cruise altitude; long,

Decurved bills threatening

To pull them earthwards again.

Banking as they climbed, taking

Bearings and setting course,

They headed north.

East sands haar, hoping for curlews

Memories bubbled up then

Of other curlew sightings, always

Unsought, unlooked for, by chance.

As casual and unassuming as the

Bird’s nonchalant, almost plodding

Walk or deliberate, methodical

Probing of soft mud.

Locked down, wings clipped,

Grounded. No longer casual,

Leaving nothing to chance,

I work memory and

Imagination off one another

Like wings beating air, trying to

Conjure again the numen of the

Northern uplands, calling to me of

Freedom and wildness.

Susan Parmenter

Plumpton Green, East Sussex

19th April 2020

With many thanks to our CelebrationEarth! writers and artists!


Courlie: c G MacLellan

A Chance of Curlews: c Susan Parmenter

Photos: c I. MacLellan

Curlew painting: c Ashley Boon. This is a limited edition print follow the link to find our more

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