As I crossed the bridge on my way to work, I happened to glance down and – blue. That’s it. The sum total of what I can recall from that split-second: a streak, a streak of blue. No, I think that flash is probably closer to what I experienced; something like the electricity of a passing summer storm or a sliver of sky momentarily carved by the wind as it slices a path for itself between clouds.
Kingfisher is what my brain shouted out to me as it sprinted to catch up. In fact, the first blurred, melded notion that actually occurred to me was Kingfisherflash, the brain’s neologistical version of a quick snapshot taken as it grasped at a moment that passed so quickly it left me not knowing what was noun, verb or adjective, or even what was truth, a residual mental image that had left me floundering in an attempt to unpick it and file it in some semblance of order like a child working at a difficult sum in class:
A glance = a flash < a blue flash. No, that’s not right.
A blue flash + speed x kingfisher blue = fast blue kingfisher. No, still not there.
I just couldn’t seem to compute it fully so then, of course, followed the doubt. Was it even a kingfisher I’d seen? I had never encountered one of those beautiful little birds this far downstream before, in an area surrounded by concrete embankments, supermarkets and traffic bridges, and yet here it was, or rather, there it went, or at least, there I think it went, a single cerulean filament holding fact and fiction together by the flimsiest of connections.
In the time it had taken me to mentally work through that feathered equation, a billion events and more had occurred elsewhere: children conceived and grandparents passed away; millions made and fortunes lost; relationships sparked by a first kiss and doors slammed for the final time; first steps taken out into the world and prodigals setting foot on a home porch for the first time in years.
‘Way leads onto way’ as Robert Frost once famously wrote, and so, ignited by that rapid dart, my thoughts of these things alighted, one into the other until they fell upon Ecclesiastes: 3 – ‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.’ I lingered on this. If there truly is a time for everything, as the verse states, then how can so many things that happen so quickly and so simultaneously claim that that moment is their time?
Time, as we know it, I often teach my A-Level Literature classes, is a man-made concept; outside the sphere of human existence there are no such things as seconds and minutes, weeks and months, only the endless transitions of night to day and day to night, on through the sliding seasons of survival and death. There are no seconds in setts; it’s never a quarter past when the rabbit crumples beneath the talons of the owl. So what is there, if there is no time? Just moments, occurring and passing, piling up behind us like bric-a-brac in a junk shop, any significance to each temporal trinket long since lost to all but the original owner.
But this moment, right here and now, still belongs to me, something to hoard or to share. No doubt many who stumble across this will give it a quick half-interested look then move on, its appeal already fading now that its immediacy has slipped from present to past. But then, isn’t that entirely the point? Often, searching for meaning and significance only muddies the waters and lessens any value further still.
‘…Who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?’ Ecclesiastes goes on to ask. No-one. No-one can tell us what the future holds, and we already know the things of the past. All that are left to us are those fractions and flashes, the kingfisher-bright blue moments, just like this one, to marvel and grasp at even as they dart by and leave us far behind.
Simon Smith is a teacher, poet, nature and angling writer living in Port Talbot on the south coast of Wales. He has written for angling publications such as Fallon’s Angler and Waterlog, and for nature writing magazines and sites including Creative Countryside, Countryman and Welsh Country. His second book, Waiting for a Hunter’s Moon, is due to be published soon by Cambria Books. Read Simon’s blog here.
Photograph by the author.