Coun­try di­ary

Pen­rhyn­deu­draeth, Gwynedd

The Guardian - Journal - - Letters armistice 1918-2018 - Jim Per­rin

Idling down to Aber­gafren on a dank au­tumn evening, I heard the calls high above – a yap­ping and yelp­ing like a lit­ter of young pekingese dogs, a sound that used to be one of the iden­ti­fy­ing fea­tures of this lovely es­tu­ary of the Dwyryd. Reach­ing the shore, I took out my glass and fo­cused on a flight of seven birds, glid­ing down to­wards Glas­traeth. Their faces were white-masked; barred wings flick­ered stro­bo­scopic sil­ver; pale bel­lies and rumps glowed in the dim­ity light. Bar­na­cle geese (

– one of my favourite birds, down from their breed­ing grounds in the Arc­tic.

Thirty years ago I used to walk here daily, of­ten with my good friend and near-neigh­bour, the sculp­tor and writer Jonah Jones. We’d en­counter on a reg­u­lar ba­sis huge flocks of bar­na­cle geese, curlew, pin­tail. Whether through cli­mate change or dis­tur­bance by the very ac­tive lo­cal wild­fowl­ing fra­ter­nity I don’t know; but none of th­ese species is now present in any­thing like their for­mer num­bers. I do know the flood of plea­sure this glimpse of a small rem­nant of the place’s for­mer glo­ries gave me, as I watched the ragged lit­tle band’s flight down to sandy rhines and sam­phire pas­tures on the far­ther shore to feed.

Th­ese beau­ti­ful, medium-sized geese have a strange pres­ence in me­dieval bes­tiaries. Folk­lore had it they were the adult form of goose bar­na­cles. Ger­ald the Welsh­man wrote of them in his To­pographia Hiber­niae that “Bish­ops and re­li­gious men in some parts of Ire­land do not scru­ple to dine off th­ese birds at the time of fast­ing, be­cause they are not flesh nor born of flesh”. Pope In­no­cent III whipped the re­cu­sants into line early in the 13th cen­tury, not­ing with sound good sense that since in all par­tic­u­lars they be­haved like geese, geese they must be, and there­fore not to be eaten dur­ing Lent.

I like the pas­sage from the

Book of Changes, the clas­sic Chi­nese text also known as the I Ching or Yi Jing, which de­scribes cries of the wild geese as “like the red threads that bind us to our fates”. May the geese be pro­tected from all un­kind fates!


Twit­ter: @gdncoun­try­di­ary

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