“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of (hu)man(ity).”

~ Charles Darwin

Dipper and Grey Wagtail by Charles Tunnicliffe. Please click on the image to discover more about this wonderful artist.

The path rolled out in front of me like the lolling tongue of a happy dog. My strides were photon pulses upwards from a gloomy darkness that had haunted me for an age. Elm trees stood as watchmen, and I passed beneath conscious we were akin, so far, all survivors of disease.

After I received my good scan result, taking a chance on a tramp across town to glimpse a dipper at Blackweir seemed a necessity for me. I was still weak, racked by my last chemo and the scanxiety of waiting, but their existence is a particular delight to me, a history, a longing, and a deep love. I have seen these little beauties hunting before near the weir, and I was more than willing to take the risk. I looked forward to sharing a moment in time and the light, as if we pulled on the very same string. 

I arrived on the western bank of the River Taff and scoured the rocks downstream for that bright white chest in familiar bobbing motion. No joy, so I crossed the suspension footbridge, pausing briefly to scan a seemingly empty river. I could feel a synchronised bounce in the structure, brought on by a few of us who crossed at the same time. I grinned at all the strangers who passed; we were all alive. They must have thought me mad.

At the end, turning right, beyond where the old dock feeder canal slopes off from beneath the weir, there’s a woodland reserve stretching south to the Secret Garden Cafe. City runners and walkers bolt through on earthy paths, yet life thrives here through all the seasons. Where the trees reach the river bank, the roots are laid bare by flood, and scrubby understory launches a daily chattering of birds to flight. I perched among them on some old log stitched with mycelium,  a spot where I could look across to the opposite bank and wait.

There! How could I have been so lucky? I saw him straight away, his white tummy stark against the shadowy union of water, debris and undergrowth. Down he plunged beneath the sibilant flow. I held my breath, waiting for him to pop up like a cork, and he did.

And then, a sense of release pulsed through my veins beyond all reason; an oxytocin rush, more, the deepest possible love for this little dipping river bird and for life itself. The sun shone on my face and things hardly felt real. So I stretched out my arm and rubbed my skin. Sure enough, this was real, and the dipper, despite all humanity, was full of alive-ness. 

To add praise to healing, a grey wagtail flit’a-tail just above the dipper to catch a gnat; such elegance and skill in the air. To watch these two river birds in the flow of life together was a clear moment of being. I was present, sharing their life and their light. Below water and above, they moved with devotion in their own evolution, and it humbled me. In this moment, all the gloom seemed totally worthwhile.

After trauma, during illness, life’s losses and struggles, to feel, at least for a while, that we are all connected by alive-ness is a celebration. There is suffering in all species, and there is release. Whether noble or not, loving is the fabric of life. And we all pull on that same string.

And there are others existing by the grace of this very moment in time, this light, whom we must surely love, or learn to love. All of us, survivors. All of us, alive… 

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