Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Flying, falling

No good signals have been received from Chris the Cuckoo since 5 August. At that point, Chris the Cuckoo was crossing the Meditarranean Sea after stopping in the Po Valley area of Italy on his annual migration south to Africa to the Congo.  Four complete migratory cycles of his have been recorded by the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) using the tracking device with which he was fitted. Now it is feared he has died and the probable reason is the severe drought the Po Valley area has been experiencing this summer.  

Falling – poor cuckoo!

P1070575Severe drought is also what’s causing enormous problems for salmon in the Vancouver area of Canada. As we were hearing from a friend there this week, the rivers are going dry and salmon trying to get upriver to reach their breeding places are not going to be able to do so.

For salmon and cuckoos, it’s a sorry tale. Already the Po Valley area drought is thought to have been responsible for the probable deaths of several others of the cuckoos that the BTO has been tracking this year. To discover the difficulties migrating cuckoos are facing is precisely why their tracking programme was devised. Drought, of course, is one of the worst of the problems: it means the feeding places where the cuckoos stop on their journeys cannot provide them with the sustenance they need for their onward flight.

The cuckoos were much on my mind when we went for a walk around the lovely North Pembrokeshire village of Nevern this week. The 6th century saint, Saint Brynach, founded the church in the village and, among the ancient yew trees leading to the church entrance is the famous Bleeding Yew that attracts many visitors. Nearer the entrance is the beautiful Celtic cross which figures in a sad little local legend in which the cuckoo is central.

 On St Brynach’s day each springtime, according to the legend, a service used to be held around that Celtic Cross. Every year, the vicar and the congregation would  gather for the service in front of that Celtic Cross and wait until, as invariably happened, a cuckoo would fly down and settle on top of the cross. At that point, the service could begin. One year, however, the people waited and waited until they were on the point of despair. Just as they were about to give up, a very wind-blown and battered cuckoo arrived and settled briefly on the cross only to fall dead on the ground below it as the service started. 

Flying – lovely swifts!

Cuckoo signNo cuckoos have been heard or seen in Pembrokeshire for some years – it’s one of the areas of England and Wales that have suffered a complete decline in the cuckoo population. Instead on our visit to Nevern, we had to content ourselves with swifts. And, wow, did they engage us! So many came flying through the little valley, wheeling over the church roof, right over our heads and even into and out of the church porch.

The reason for the forays into the porch soon became clear. High up inside, although we couldn’t exactly see it, there was obviously a swallows’ nest and pinned to the church door was this handwritten sign asking for the church door to be kept closed ‘as the baby swallows are learning to fly’.

So there we are. Lots goes on. And for us this week, that included our trip to see the painting I mentioned last week. What a surprise! So far from being the lifelike portrait of my Aunty Mali I’d rather been dreading, it turned out to be a full-length watercolour drawing, the face recognisable as that of my indomitable aunt to anyone that knew her but the whole incredibly wittily done, more a portrait of her character than anything else. Of course we felt we had to buy the painting. It had been exhibited in Spain during the lifetime of the artist, Elizabeth Cramp, but now it felt like it must come home.

More next week – see you then.



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