“Wow this is really super awesome!”
Parents will recognise this as the greatest accolade that you can ever hope for from a seven year old and actually the amazingly it was in response to a close encounter with a kingfisher not a Star Wars movie. Osca and I had stumbled across a kingfisher fishing on the bit of stream between the weeping birch, by the Caledonian Hall and the pond. And we were so close we could see every iridescent, electric-blue feather along its magnificent back.
I have always loved kingfishers since first encountering them on the Hamble as a boy. They simply don’t belong in a watercolour-toned landscape like Britain but should be in a rainforest somewhere hot and lush. Strangely I remember seeing kingfishers from a dug-out canoe in Borneo that were quite dowdy compared with our own exotic natives. To see them in our Botanic Garden and in the company of a child, struck temporarily dumb by the thrill of the moment, was very special indeed.
Kingfishers can be quite predictable. So while the boy is back at school this week, I have been able to return daily to the same spot at the same time, to repeat the joy of seeing this spectacular and highly efficient catcher of fish deplete the stream and pond of its minnow population.
I am glad my son will grow up knowing what a kingfisher is. He is one of the lucky ones, apparently kingfishers are disappearing from our culture but it is not the birds themselves that are endangered but the word kingfisher that has fallen out of common use and has been excised from the children’s dictionary. The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (see my blog ) is bringing kingfisher (along with acorn, dandelion, conker and willow…) back into everyday use and this summer Jackie’s marvellous portrait of kingfishers fishing will hang in Inverleith House as part of our exhibition of paintings and poems from the book.
Robert MacFarlane shares the awe of Halcyon the kingfisher in his acrostic spell :
Kingfisher: the colour-giver, fire-bringer, flame-flicker, river’s quiver.
Ink-black bill, orange throat, and a quick blue back-gleaming feather stream.
Neat and still it sits on the snag of a stick, until with…
Gold-flare, wing-fan, whipcrack the kingfisher – zingfisher, singfisher!-
Flashes down too fast to follow, quick and quicker carves its hollow
In the water, slings its arrow superswift to swallow
Stickleback or shrimp or minnow.
Halcyon is its other name – also ripple-calmer, water-nester,
Evening angler, weather-teller, rainbringer and
Rainbow bird – that sets the stream alight with burn and glitter!
Meanwhile there are just 7 days left to pledge a contribution to the appeal to get a copy of The Lost Words in every primary school in Scotland. The campaign has already reached 75% of its target but still needs another few hundred pledgers to achieve its goal http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/thelostwords.