Country diary: avian pipers at the gates of dawn | Environment

It was becoming light, but not light yet. Water, salt marsh, sky: these were names for things that did not exist in the dark before dawn. Then the glim of something, maybe a moon-piece, as befits the Lune, made its way in to where it was possible to look but not go. There was the cold, face-wash quiet of the air and the slight rub of dry sedge trodden on the road. There was frost, if that smells of silver. A spectral breath returned inside after exhalation, setting the mind afloat. There was a slow opening in the east and then the nets of river fog filled with gold.

As shoals of light swam through the air, the river and the land floated in banded layers of colour, none of which lasted longer than a few seconds. This was a weightless landscape, at liberty and so insubstantial that any ripple could disperse any or all parts of it to drift away in different directions. As the sky blued into being, a bow of geese flew northward and a jack snipe lifted from somewhere indefinable between marsh and water, jinking bat-like out of and back into the mist. Far off, some oystercatchers piped the first bars of their call and then, as if a signal that dawn had broken, a curlew summoned sunrise, its song a weir of keening but without grief.

The morning opened everything up: the reed and sedge thatch scattered across the road from the last high tide; huddles of plastic flotsam in the bank; an upturned armchair on the marsh; junk thrown out of the back of a van; a trickling spring through ash roots; smoking chimneys, towers, turbines; rooks investigating the mystery of how this was not quite the world as they left it last night.

The day was full of daytime things and journeys that returned us 134 miles to Wenlock Edge, where the dusk began to settle. Walking in the woods I found a fragment of blue shell in my pocket that I’d picked up on the Lune Estuary that morning. I put it in the fork of a hawthorn, a gift brought back from the sea. Through the silhouettes of trees, the fields purpled and blackbirds let their last songs trail into echo as a golden light, strange and wonderful from behind the hills, swept across the woods.