BLOG Ellen Bell

NWR Issue 105

For the Birds, RSPB Ynys-hir Reserve 2–5 October 2014

Rolling down the car window I ask for Rosie. Which one? replies the parking-attendant at Ynys-hir’s RSPB Reserve before directing me towards a marquee at the end of the field. I march over. Rosie? a girl replies; follow those lights and you’ll find her.

It’s dark and I’ve always been afraid of the dark. The lights, teeny LED ones, appear to be marking out a path through the Reserve. My eyes soon adjust. Walking, I notice how aware of myself I’ve become – I hear my breath, smell, sense the earth under my feet, feel my skin hackle. The LEDs are projecting perfect mini circles of yellow on the ground, attracting tiny moths and illuminating blades of grass; I catch a leaf falling. Where am I? A voice in the darkness. How were the LEDs, could you see all right? A steward. Fine, fine, I say, passing through a gate. The Visitor’s Centre is just ahead, he calls. The gathering of bodies hovering around a small tent emitting an aroma of pea and mint soup, remind me of childhood bonfire nights. In the Visitor’s Centre, a smiling Rosie offers to walk round with me. No, I say, I want to do this alone.

I’d better click you in, says the steward. Mind you don’t stray from the path, says Rosie, there’s a bog either side. I won’t, I say and stride off into the dark thinking about fairy tales.

What’s that? A whirring noise followed by a flash of blue and red darting through the rushes, leaving a blur of white light. A Kingfisher? On the left a tree hung with metal crows, slowly twisting like Christmas baubles wafted by a candle’s draught. The landscape has opened up. The path sweeps down. A bird ascends then dives into the reeds. A white dot-to-dot bird, luminous in the blackness. The path turns and there is an undulating lake of light. I’m utterly mesmerised. Microscopic dashes of blue atop hundreds and hundreds of grass heads. How is it possible? A thrill of pleasure momentarily stills me before I’m pulled onwards by the call of cuckoos. I walk over a bridge past a small pond alive with flickering red. Fireflies? Or are they humming birds? The cuckoos are a series of exquisite bellows mounted on stilts, puffing out their song with a steady, machine-like grace. The path takes me up a short incline. More bird calls. Nesting boxes on sticks, a mini estate of bird houses, with feathers for weather vanes. One lights up and emits a call, then another, then another. A dark form is fiddling with some wires. Fantastic, I say. Thanks, he says, but I’m just the sparky. He explains that you need wind to make them work. It’s the feathers, he says, before scuttling off ahead of me to test the other exhibits. More crows hanging from a tree, looking real this time. It is all about associations. Strange fruit, I whisper, Billie Holiday.

I’ve walked too fast and bump into a glut of technicians testing various screens, some showing silhouettes of birdcages, another of a man wearing lederhosen speeded-up, whistling bird sounds (uncannily like Marcus Coates’ Dawn Chorus, shown at Aberystwyth Arts Centre a few years ago) and a tree of stilled swifts. A be-suited man is sitting under a colonial-style canopy playing a cello. What was simply magical has given way to elegant artifice. Man versus the wild. Gun shots. A male voice reciting Welsh verse. And a tree of empty frames, illuminated one-by-one to show glass-etched drawings of birds caught in death. Then the inner guts of a baby grand, hung from another tree, fluttering with the shadows of sparrows seemingly plucking at its strings. Two monstrous eggs pierced through by rotating feathered rods stroke out a deep thrumming noise. Boom, boom, boom.

Are you done, asks the steward. Yes, I say. I’d better click you out then. Thanks, I say, torn between relief and joy, thank you very much.

Ellen Bell is an artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.


previous blog: American Interior in Welsh
next blog: Welsh Short Story Network, Aberystwyth Arts Centre, 15 October


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