Birds of Firle: Curls of White Feathers by Jean Wilson

Swan feathers by Jean Wilson for Birds of Firle

In the first week, we were an alto less in choir. Within a fortnight, the big burly driving instructor in our community was gone…

Behind the local supermarket, there is a small nature reserve created by the redressing of the former coal pit. Coots, mallards, a heron and a pair of swans have taken up residency. Each March the Council begin to drive in stakes at the water’s edge to cordon off the nesting site. The weather was unseasonably mild as they began work last year, even as Covid started to darken our lives.

In the first week, we were an alto less in choir. Within a fortnight, the big burly driving instructor in our community had gone, leaving his wife (a care home worker) and their three children.

Even as the grim totals rose daily on our screens, a swan sat demurely on her nest in the Reserve’s upper lake, while the other held watch with apparent serenity.

I was drawn to them daily in exercise hour. As the world around me began to change beyond recognition, here – almost hidden from view – an age-old miracle was taking shape. Responsibilities and the weather then kept me away for a frustrating time, but on the first day of my return I noticed tiny curls of white feathers drifting around the nest site. Intermittently, the swan stretched her neck up high, and then it came: a long, high trumpeting call, triumphant and terrifying. As it faded, she lifted both wings for a brief moment. Within their protection, she was hiding two tiny rows of squirming cygnets, perfectly moulded to the shape of her breast.

The day was still sombre with expected rain, and no shaft of sunlight pierced the clouds to celebrate the birth of these fragile birds. But bending down, I gathered up the wind-blown white downy feathers – a hatching of hope.

Swan Feathers Too by Jean Wilson for Birds of Firle

Jean Wilson is a retired English and Media Studies teacher, who writes monthly for her church website. This is her first online publication beyond professional articles and locally-published pieces.


Birds of Firle is a single edition book by Tanya Shadrick being posted sequentially to 100 collaborators around the world, inviting responses to the idea of Grief and Hope as the things with feathers. Each recipient spends a few days with the book, before returning it with a hand-written letter and other small artefacts. The project gives emerging and unpublished writers the opportunity to see their words archived alongside those of established artists and authors.

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