‘Crex-crex’ by Kathleen Jamie

Another essay.

Crex is both the sound and the name. ‘Corncrake’ in English – Crex crex in scientific, a representation of its call: “two joined notes, like a rasping telephone.”

Like Adams, Jamie goes on a journey to find a rare bird. It takes her not to New Zealand, but closer to home, the Hebridean Isle of Coll – where people are scarce and corncrakes, sadly, scarcer.

The extent of this bird’s eradication at our hands (in the UK, at least) is unthinkable. From ubiquity to near extinction in less than a century.

The corncrake is “a brown bird, a kind of rail, not ten inches tall, which prefers to remain unseen in tall damp grass”, the problem being that mechanised mowing has almost completely done away with that habitat. It is also, delightfully, “the kind of bird who’d want to be excused games”.

Jamie’s writing oozes attention. She has the gift of bringing you to the place – not with overwrought descriptions, but with a quiet vigour that seeps into you. “The sea and its surf is never far away, a constant Atlantic soughing, a sense that the land is an interruption in a long conversation between water and sky”.

Lovely stuff.

Like Adams, she doesn’t claim expertise. “Knowing birds is like being fluent in a foreign language, or adept with a musical instrument”. But her ability to notice is more than enough.

“I want to see a corncrake”.

And so, having read this several times, do I. 

From Findings, Sort Of Books 2005

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