A blindingly bright, wonderfully warm spring day in May 1970 saw a pair of young lads locking their bikes to a fence post next to an old, gnarled oak. These boys, just turned 13, spent the rest of the day exploring the lush green meadows and riverside woodland belt that make up part of Postwick Marsh adjacent to the River Yare just east of Norwich. An adventure. Let loose and free to wander amongst wildlife on what would otherwise be a slow and tedious Sunday. Instead they could watch yellow wagtails flitting like jewels over the fields, listen to cuckoos calling from the willows and delight in twittering swallows swooping around the old pumphouse. But the highlight of that day was the discovery of nesting lapwings, a hitherto unsuspected and unlooked for joy. They liked birds, and as with all young boys at that time, looked for their nests and collected their eggs, but the lapwings sent their naturalistic pursuits into unchartered waters. The mournful cries of the adult birds as they flew around them on broad, pied wings plucked a chord of elemental notes. It connected them with nature in a way new to them. In short, the birds and the place they had chosen to nest left an indelible, life changing mark. They fell in love with this marshland world, its haunting landscapes and special wildlife, so much so that every 3rd May since they have celebrated this awakening by an exchange of messages and the act of simple remembrance. Of course, the land across which they undertook their youthful peregrinations was privately owned and more than once they were banished from his realm by a shotgun toting farmer. ‘Bugger Off!’ And they did.
We scroll forward 50 years and decide to revisit this place and attempt to retrieve a note we left, wrapped in plastic and slotted into a crack in the oak. There is little chance of recovering such a flimsy memento, but it is the opportunity for a catch up and a walk in the late summer sun. And to reminisce about those halcyon days when our cares were few and horizons broad. But everything has changed! Not a wonder given the passage of time, but posing a problem as to exactly where the placing of our time capsule took place. It is surprising how memories trick you after the lapse of half a century! I think the tree was at the end of a dirt track, my friend is sure it was a lone tree growing some yards into the field. He recalls the crevice being at head height whereas I distinctly remember it being no more than two feet from the ground. The main problem is that the path we used to wheel our bikes along has been rerouted, in fact erased, and the adjacent plantation felled. Not to mention the existence of a couple of new houses built where none existed before, leaving us with precious few landmarks with which to navigate. But after a bit of logical thinking we realise the line of the old track and its associated hedgerow now form the boundary to a field several metres from a new asphalt track on which we stand and which seems to lead nowhere. We duck under a wire fence and encounter two aged oak trees in line, or close to, what must once have been part of the earlier boundary.
Here we are then trespassing again, but this time with a purpose we feel will be just as interesting to any piqued landowner as it is to us. Could one of these oaks be the very same one we used to rest against to eat our lunch and which spawned the idea of leaving a message to our future selves? It’s so hard to be sure, but the first tree we reach has a crack at just the right height and facing in just the right direction. Surely too much of a coincidence to play false? But sadly, there was nothing to be found. We dig the accumulated detritus from the crack in the trunk but are left simply with a small heap of blackened mud and mould for our troubles. We expect nothing and therefore are not disappointed. It matters not a jot. What really matters is that despite the passage of years we are here once again, and for all the cosmetic alterations, the essence of the place remains. There is no retrieved treasure on this day, just a lovely walk in the sunshine and many sweet memories of those youthful days when the echoing cries of lapwings decorated our dreams.