So the robin who gladdened our garden all summer is no more.

I looked out of the kitchen window this morning to see a starling tearing at a small bundle of rags in the middle of the lawn. Then the ‘rags’ flashed red and I realised, with a jolt of horror, that ‘our’ robin was now carrion.

I rushed into the garden in a state, startling the starling into flight with its half-eaten booty.

In retrospect, a blessing.

Our robin (henceforth ‘he,’ though I’m no expert on bird gender) had become an old and dear friend. Distinctively upright, as all robins are, his heart-shaped bib bisected by a tufty patch of grey, we would recognise him instantly when he alighted on the fig tree or serenaded us from apple blossom.

Back in May, he and a partner tried to build a nest in the ivy against the garage wall, only to be driven from their near-complete home by a couple of penguin-suited heavies, aka magpies.

A lot of forlorn chirping later, Grey Tuft began to creep back, reluctant to yield hard-won territory. It became a singular joy to listen to his defiant plainsong each morning at dawn, then to peer out and see him bestride the battlements of the garage, taking a punt once more on his small patch of earthly delights.

He was partial to homemade fruit cake. He had a broad vocal range. He delighted in our hulking presence as we hung out washing or pulled up weeds, stitching the air with joyful swoops, sometimes skimming our faces with soft-whirring wings. In the past few weeks, the missus had returned too, and they seemed to be scouting for a new des res.

I’ve been moist-eyed most of the morning.

It probably seems silly – after all, a robin is not a refugee or a homeless person.

But this little bird came to symbolise so much – the freedom to soar, the yearning for safe haven, the determination it takes to secure it, the fragility of life and hope itself.

If we are to make a little birdhouse in our souls, its soft-rustling occupant will always, for me, be a winged warrior in scarlet and grey.



Gone but never forgotten

Gone but never forgotten



I have a bird in spring
Which for myself doth sing –
The spring decoys.
And as the summer nears –
And as the rose appears,
robin is gone.

Yet I do not repine
Knowing that bird of mine,
Though flown –
Learneth beyond the sea
Melody new for me
And will return.

Fast is a safer hand
Held in a truer land
Are mine –
And though they now depart,
Tell I my doubting heart
They’re thine.

In a serener bright,
In a more golden light
I see
Each little doubt and fear,
Each little discord here

Then I will not repine,
Knowing that bird of mine
Though flown
Shall in a distant tree
Bright melody for me
Emily Dickinson