Afloat on birdsong, hawthorn petals and young leaves
May 14, 2023

Up on the Roof (Waiting for the rain)

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We are back! Spring sunshine and showers are transforming the fields and the canal and it is wonderful to be behind the microphone once again!
The roof of a narrowboat can acts as a special extra room offering you panoramic views of a world of thee worlds. Why not climb up here and join us up on the roof of the Erica to enjoy rook play and the approach of a thunderstorm.

This episode is dedicated especially to Stu and Vania.    

Journal entry:

10th May, Wednesday

“A game of Pooh-sticks and listening for the train.
 The level-crossing gate feels warm in the sun.
 The ground is spongy with rainfall and forget-me-not.
 Rumours of thunder to the west.
 Water dropwort and young leaf
 The minglings of sunlight and water.
 Chiffchaffs’ scissoring notes.
 Erica among the bluebells.”

 Episode Information:

Chimney smoke and a moorhenMoorhen and chimney smoke

Cowslips along the canal bank as a boat passes down to Stratford
Cowslips along the canal bank as a boat passes down to Stratford

Sunny canal bank but with dark storm clouds ahead
Storm approaching!

All sound recordings for this episode were recorded canal-side in April and May 2023. 

With special thanks to ourlock-wheelersfor supporting this podcast.

Orange Cookie
Donna Kelly
Tony Rutherford
Mary Keane.

Arabella Holzapfel.
Rory and MJ.
Narrowboat Precious Jet.
Linda Reynolds Burkins.
Richard Noble.
Carol Ferguson.
Tracie Thomas
Mike and Tricia Stowe
Madeleine Smith

General Details

In the intro and the outro, Saint-Saen's The Swan is performed by Karr and Bernstein (1961) and available on CC at
Two-stroke narrowboat engine recorded by 'James2nd' on the River Weaver, Cheshire. Uploaded on 23rd June 2018. Creative Commons Licence. 

Piano and keyboard interludes composed and performed by Helen Ingram.

All other audio recorded on site. 

For more information about Nighttime on Still Waters

You can find more information and photographs about the podcasts and life aboard the Ericaon our website at It will also allow you to become more a part of the podcast and you can leave comments, offer suggestions, and reviews. You can even, if you want, leave me a voice mail by clicking on the microphone icon. 

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10th May, Wednesday

“A game of Pooh-sticks and listening for the train.
The level-crossing gate feels warm in the sun.
The ground is spongy with rainfall and forget-me-not.

Rumours of thunder to the west.
Water dropwort and young leaf
The minglings of sunlight and water.
Chiffchaffs’ scissoring notes.
Erica among the bluebells.



We’re back. Back where we are meant to be. Me here and you over there –  gazing into the night together, just you and me, sharing the darkness, sharing the wonder, sharing the uncertainties of the night.  

I’ve missed you and I have missed being here and you have been on my mind a lot and thankyou to everyone who reached out their hand. It really helped. And now we are back just where we should be.

This is the narrowboat Erica back doing what she was always meant to do, narrowcasting into the darkness to you, wherever you are.

The waters are mirror-smooth tonight. Venus hangs, pin bright, in the west and the pipistrelle are flying low. It's a good night for bats. 

I can't tell you how good it is to see you. Thank you for coming. Come inside. The kettle is on, the welcome is warm. Welcome aboard.



Welcome again, it’s so good to be back here, doing this. Well, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster time, but things are straightening out. The tide turns, as it always does, and dried creeks, that have been stifled with the clutter of rubbish for so long feel once more the flow of cleansing water.

But here and now is not the time to dwell on it. So much as happened. Far too much to cram into just one episode. Spring has continued to stretch her stride across the old familiar landscape and even the conclave of oaks and the owl-chapeled oak in the dell are beginning to look green. The blackthorn and now the hawthorn have been spectacular this year.     

We’ve had one or two duckling hatchings. Certainly not as many as last year, but further down the canal we’ve been seeing many more. Although, I haven’t spotted them, there has been reports of some moorhen chicks. The swans have been thinking about nest building. We were quite excited because, initially, the male (cob) who shoulders the main responsibility for nest building, began to build one adjacent to the boat. It would have given us a grandstand position. However, unfortunately, he seems to have given up on that one and has pottered about at another one further down from us. Although, it has to be said that his efforts seem a little half-hearted at the moment.

I have been worried about the pen (the female swan). She has had what looked like a growth under her chin. She’s had it for as long as she has been here, but, each year, it has grown successively bigger. I’d assumed the worst, thinking it was tumorous. I kept an eye on her, as I know many others here did, and she appeared to be eating without difficulty, but I wondered for how long she would be able to eat. A few weeks back, one of our neighbouring boaters had the insight to look it up on the internet and she found that it was a not uncommon condition in swans and was caused by food – often grass, getting caught and impacted under the tongue. On the one hand, that was good news as it did not appear cancerous, but on the other, the advice was that it needed to be treated as these swellings often got infected leading to death. I wasn’t too sure what the procedure was and was going to chat with some of our neighbours about contacting Cyril the swan man. However, as her mate was – sort of – nest building, which suggested that she was about to start laying eggs, probably now wasn’t the time to try to catch her, transport her to a vet for a procedure that I feared might need anaesthetic. Over the weekend, a message came through on my WhatsApp to say that another of the boaters had managed to clear the wad himself. How on earth he managed to do it (it must be a difficult enough operation on a docile bird, but one as big and strong as a full-grown female swan – is nothing short of amazing!). So, hats off and the greatest respect to you Mark – you’re a complete hero and a star!! When we returned to our mooring midweek, we were met by a totally transformed swan. No swelling, bright-eyed, and extremely perky!   



Hello old friend.

We’ve made it through the winter, haven’t we? The days and nights of bitter stinging rains, bone cold, and darker than I could have ever believed.

Nights sheeted with ice; thick, hard, ungiving – that dug deep into the land, locking it hard. Who could live through such winters as that? Wintercaerig. Winter cares. Winter anxiety. Even as I smashed the ice in the horses’ water trough, its grip remained tight. Icing back over, almost immediately, even as the horses were drinking. The canal and land became one single unyielding unity, killing the little children of Alcyone and Ceyx. Who can survive such darkness?

But the ground, here, is now young again with growth. Look how high the nettle, sedge, and grasses have grown! And you! With your heavy ancient limbs, twisted trunk, crevassed and torn by the brute winds of the turning years, and hard winters. Harder winters than I could bear. Winters that would break the likes of me. But look how strong and green and vibrant your buds are! Even in old age there is new life.

And the lark-sung sky towers above us, castled with cloud crags amid the blue. Do you greet the swallow’s arrival as fondly as I do? Are you as thrilled with the joy of young rooks carnivalling among the thrown scatter of clouds and branch as I am?

Now I walk between avenues of cowslip, buttercup yellow, and daffodil. The reed spears are showing black along the waterline, and hawthorn petals fall among the pin-picks of vetch blue. Just down the towpath gush emerald fountains of water dropwort. Hemlock. Even here amid such exuberance of life are the whispers of death. The snake was always as much part of Eden as were the trees of Life and Knowledge.

And WE have made it through the dark winter, old friend. I always knew you would, but I confess there were times when I didn’t think that I would.

I see the badgers have been back. Their snoutings in your hollowed trunk have been scraped anew, and fresh leavings mark their place. You shelter them well, my friend, as you do all the life who come to you. As you have sheltered me when the night winds have blown cruel with noise.

Your roots run deep – anchoring you to the earth when the wolfish east wind howls. Running deep, safe below the biting crusts of ice and hoar frost. Rich and warm with life. There were times when I longed to join you. Nestling deep underground, nestled among your roots. All the while, your roots and branches reach outwards, even when I could only reach inwards, and, sometimes, not even then.

But your roots were deep enough for the both of us. And each day, you held out to me your gnarled time-filled branches – jewelled with buds – to remind me that, even in winter – this winter – this one winter of cacophonous night – life was still possible. 

Even when the ice freezes as soon as I smash it.
Even when the horizons are swept clean of bird song.
Even when kingfishers die.

Life is possible.
Life. Is. Always. Possible.     





Come up here onto the Erica’s roof. It is a good spot to perch. Up here, it feels as if you are, sort of, more part of everything. Dangling our legs over the side, we can share in each part of the biosphere. Below our feet flows (very slowly) the canal. Laced with blossom petal and leaf. A slow, languid, pace. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it was static. But it very rarely is. Local microcurrents and eddies create small motions that a person with lazy-time on their hands can spot. The hyporheic flow. The unseen movements below the surface currents. The mingling of surface water and groundwater within the hidden alchemic zone of sediment and river (or in our case canal) bed. Today, there is a definite – of ponderous – current downstream, Although, it will only take one boat travelling upstream to drag the leaves and petals and random twigs back past their starting points.

The water is a deep greeny-brown today. It reflects a soft May skyscape of gathering clouds. Thunderstorms are forecast, but – right now – the air is still and heavy with hawthorn scent and insect flight.

Land, our natural environment, is close by. Deep full of greens. Rich, luxuriant thick with fecundity and still wet from last night’s rains. The thin earthy thread of the towpath is hedged between abundant growth – piling in pillowy green cumuli. Right beside the boat is Lady’s Smock or the cuckoo plant. Delicate pink flowers on threadlike stem. And star-fields of cornflower blue speedwells, dandelion globes full of time, cowslip lanterns brightening the weary traveller’s way, the giant elephant ears of burdock, and Queen Anne’s Lace, Jack by the Hedge lacy white. Plantain torpedo’s (white man’s footprints), Ladies bedstraw, but still as yet to flower. And across the canal, the thick line of rushes and reeds, through which duck (a mother with 4 no 5 babies) and moorhens rustle. And above them, the shrubby vegetation is turning green and impenetrable. Blackthorn, hawthorn, elder, bramble. What a rich home – what a palace – for the song birds to gather. And they do. Blackbird, chiffchaff, wren, dunnock, blue tit, chaffinch. A confused scurrying fluster of movement, but such clear rivers of song. Yesterday, a heron flew past us low. If we were up here then, he would have passed at eyelevel. Beating on strong unlaboured wings. Arrow sharp, grey. There’s an air of chalk-dust and old lecture notes about him. He landed on the corner, over there, where the canal sweeps out of sight. His landing is like the unfolding of one of those old wooden artist’s easels, all angles and legs. Up here, we are a part of the land and yet distant from it. It gives us a new perspective; the height helps.

And of course, there is the other element: sky. The rooks are busy. Although some ravens were here earlier. Just behind our backs there is a patch of woodland. Old oaks and ash, an ancient crack willow line the edge canal-side. The middle is formed by a group of some younger alder, lithe and lean. They look like a cluster of children with their arms upraised and their outspread fingers reaching for the sky. The oak and the ash are greening, but have yet to fully leaf. When you have lived through a hundred or so English springs, I guess you get to become a little sceptical about British weather and the seasonal dance. There’s no hurrying the oak and the ash. There’s no fooling the oak and ash. If you want to know when spring is properly here, look to them. They know. But their tardiness suits our aims well today, because if you look right through the alder spinney, you might just be able to make out, through the tangle, a tall tree towards the opposite edge. Near the top of it, there is a vague, smudgy, clutter of sticks. You might be tempted to think that it was a mistletoe ball, gall, or burr knot. But it isn’t. It is actually, a schoonering rook’s nest, mainmast high, full of young rookish life. Their parents frequently visiting on black gothic wings, soaring in tight circles while their brood call out with young voices and the world around rejoices at such vibrancy of life.

Up here, in the air, looking down at both land and water, you could almost believe that you were a creature of the pigeon-soft air Avian born, a part of this great arial space in which the brave dark clouds are building. Blue tits gather in the overhanging arms of hawthorn. They look so much smaller when they are not squirreling on birdfeeders. There, they appear substantial, solid, robust. Here, they seem small, sleek even.  One calls out. Chipping notes that chivvy the fluting melodies of robin and blackbird. We're floating on rivers of song, as the boat floats on the slow current of hawthorn petals and leaves.

The roof of the Erica creates the perfect Venn diagram of the three spheres of life. The centre-point of the intersection of the three ecological realms; the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and the atmosphere. Up here, we can touch each one. Up here, we are a part of each one.      

Perhaps that is why I like it up here. To just sit and be. Somehow part, but not part, of so many different worlds. They flow of life continuing around me. To, may be, jot some passing notes down. Unrelated words and phrases scattering spider-like across the lined pages of my notebook. The half-formed thoughts that drift as slowly as this water is drifting. But really it is an excuse to be here. In a world of three worlds.

We are looking west-wards. The sun is high, almost directly overhead, reminding us that the solstice is nearly upon us. The sun, haloed with cloud, bores into the water at our feet. Looking down into the canal is like looking up to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I expect angels (draped in white samite) or the finger of God to emerge from the clouds in that biblical reflection.

The sun is syrupy warm. The runnels at the edge of the roof are almost too hot to touch. The air is still and slightly sticky. Insects fly low over the water. Their wings and bodies touching it from time to time making little circles in the water. The fish are on the rise too. Circles mesmerise the canal surface. The sky in front is dark with cloud.

Sit up here and listen with me, afloat on hawthorn petals and leaves, as the storm approaches,

First, the bassy growl that hints of thunder. Then unmistakable rumbles.

The wind begins to kick and chivvy – the outriders of the storm.

Out of sight, hidden by the spinney, a train passes on the railway line behind us. It’s hurrying on its way north to Birmingham. For a short while, the train drowns out the growling skyline. Then it is gone. Just the sound of blackbird, robin, the parental rooks, and the thunder.

Then, in thick heavy spots, the rain starts to fall…     


This is the narrowboat Erica signing off for the night and wishing you a very peaceful, restful night. Good night.