cold spring

Where the stream slows and deepens it is the colour of petrol. Grebe, mallard, tufted duck, moorhens, all with young. The older moorhen chicks look less downy than hairy, like some combination of mammal and bird. A mayfly is stuck on the surface of the water. Later the afternoon turns windy and cold. We pass some half-timbered houses with steeply-pitched roofs, trapped between sewage works and a railway line. New build is going up all around them. Two guinea fowl huddle together, staring intently into a bow window; while through an open side door we glimpse a figure running up stairs. “You can tell water’s deep,” B says, “simply by looking at its surface.” By the time you’re ten years old, she claims, you’ve learned to interpret its colour, the way the light plays on it. Over quite a short period you’ve learned to weigh it by eye. “There’s an organic need to make estimates like that.”