‘Reelin’ in the years.
“Reelin’ in the years, stowing away the time”, a memorable phrase from the opening track on side two of the 1972 Steely Dan album entitled ‘Can’t buy a thrill’. It hummed away at the back of my mind just recently as I climbed the 300 metre high hill called Mwmffri at Babel a few miles from Llandovery in mid Wales. We were there to meet up with my sister in law and her husband who had relocated from Essex. From their new home they looked up to this hill so it was just asking to be climbed. And what a climb it turned out to be for no sooner had we set off when an ornithological wonder flew out of an oak tree and sailed away into the blue October sky, the sunshine catching its orange and grey colouring and the deep v shape of the tail. No mistake: red kite. Later after we had walked by oak lined narrow roads and rivulets and up the green grassed slopes of Mwmffri we were joined at the top by not one but two red kite. They dipped and floated over the summit before gliding back over the oak lined Ifon Gwydderig to their perch in the old quarry above Garddfady farm. A splendid sighting of course but why had it prompted a classic album recollection? Well back in 1970 I had visited nearby Tregaron on a Cardiff Naturalist’s Society field trip in search of this, then, very rare bird. The raised bog area of Tregaron was the only home for the handful of birds left in Britain. This sad fact was epitomised by the dank weather of that 1970 day and the brief glimpse of a doleful red kite perched motionless on a tree on the skyline. It had been a melancholy day indicative of Neil Young’s lament at the time for “a Mother Nature on the run” , a day, not so much ‘stowed away’, but buried deep in the mind.
Not forever though. Now forty six years on that day emerged, happily transformed from one of darkness to light, ‘reeled in’ to mark a remarkable change in the fortunes of this beautiful bird: a triumph for conservation, breeding initiatives and rewilding.
I am writing this as I look out on our own 300 metre hill. There are no red kites here; a pity. Still as I write buzzards wheel away above it, calling. There were no buzzards to be seen thirty three years ago when we moved here. So red kite over Mwmffri, buzzards over Staerough, aerial beacons of hope.
A week prior to our visit to Babel, I had been busy in the garden, planting for next spring. The tasks in hand had also given rise to a musical reverie, and the guitar intro and evocative lyric of the song ‘Garden’ by TS McPhee of the Groundhogs reverberated through the years from 1970. Why was this ? What was I doing? It had been a busy afternoon. I had already planted a hundred and fifty anemone de caen, my wife’s favourite, between wallflowers and sweet williams along with a surprise free gift from Parkers Ltd of a hundred daffodils when my attention turned to the bumper pack of mixed crocuses. It was the plunging of my Burgon and Ball bulb planter into the lawn which summoned the gravelly voice of TS McPhee as I set about naturalising it with the crocuses:
“But I’m not going to cut a single blade of grass
My garden will look just like the distant past
Before the days of agricultural land”
The whole refrain surged back when I set about the final job of the day, digging up buttercups in the allotment. These are not, as you know, ‘weeds’ in my book, just plants in the wrong place. The right place was to be in the wild garden beside the pond at Innisfree. Not surprising then that this is what I recalled:
“My garden is all overgrown and the weeds are creeping up on my home
Grass has grown over two foot high and the trees are blotting out the sky
French windows won’t open any more from the moss that’s grown outside the door
Hundreds of birds are nesting in the trees, looks like a wildlife sanctuary.”
Well Innisfree is not quite as wild as Tony TS McPhee’s garden! Still replanting those buttercups and adorning the lawn with crocuses will surely enhance our “wildlife sanctuary” restoring at least one small patch to “the distant past” and make it home for “hundreds of birds”.
1. SteelyDan. 1972 . Can’t buy a thrill. Opening track side two ,’Reelin’ in the years’. ABC records.
2. Groundhogs. 1970. Thank Christ for the bomb. Track six ‘Garden’. EMI records.
3. Neil Young. 1970. After the Goldrush. Title track side one track two. Reprise records.