So.....I was camping in Dean Forest and was hiking in the area. I came to Symonds Yat with its high vantage point over the river Wye and surrounding valley. There were a few avid bird watchers at the lookout and they seem to have pretty much taken it over, their zoom lenses pointing like sniper's rifles at some cliffs far off in the distance with a chance to get some shots of the majestic peregrine falcons nesting there. I love these birds of prey, their speckled plumage and pointed spitfire-like wings and sheer predatory qualities. I couldn't see anything with my own paltry lens. The visitors who came up for the view were regarded as intruders by the twitchers and they clearly weren't welcome even though this was a public place. A bit disappointed at both the atmosphere and the fact that my favourite birds were no more than tiny specks, I made my way down.
I walked through the fine woodlands of oak and silver birch on my own and with barely a soul to be seen. As I turned a bend in the path, I stopped dead. About 25 feet in front of me was a small hillock where a tiny waterfall was trickling onto a few stones, then flowing downstream. Underneath the little waterfall was a mature peregrine doing its ablutions, cleaning its striking feathers, showering sunlit drops like golden rain. I don't know how but I felt this impressive creature was a female; it was one of the most beautiful and striking sights of nature I had ever had the good fortune to witness.
Suddenly, the falcon stopped as she noticed me.
In photos, their eyes had always seemed an impossible jet black, full of mystery and enigma. But this one, with the sun full in her face, had eyes opaque and light as a midsummer's day but still deep and unknowable. I don't know how long we stared at each other, quietly afraid to respond, both locked in a primal moment. Nothing moved but the gentle trickle of water. You could reach out to the surrounding stillness with your hand and clasp it. Lost in time, it was the peregrine not I who broke the silence. With a powerful thrust of her wings, she half flew, half lifted herself upwards and soared through the trees and out of sight to who knows where.
I stood rooted to the spot for a while, slightly dazed. I thought of the foolish birdwatchers on their distant perch. I thought of this blessing in the middle of an ancient forest. And I thought of the fastest creature on God's earth, untethered and free as the wind.
It was a good day.