Dee, T. (2009) The Running Sky Vintage Press ISBN 9780099516491

The Running Sky was Tim Dee’s first book, a series of 12 essays, one for each month of the year. The essays are transcendent distillations of a lifetime’s obsession,  magnificently observed and extraordinarily vigilant, they capture the essence of the man, the landscape through which he passes and the ethereal birds he watches.


Dee takes us on a series of journeys with birds and deftly interweaves observation, autobiography and intensely personal reflections on what birds mean to him.


All is delivered in what Stephen Moss, writing in The Guardian described as: clear and luminous prose that is a delight to read.

Dee writes like a dream…


“Imagine a whale’s tongue, grey-brown and wet for ever, fifteen miles long and fifteen miles wide – that is the mud of the Wash.

The conditioning colour here is brown. Everything runs and nothing is fast, but brown dominates from the end of the fields to far out to sea. It is a brown like a jam jar of water after a busy child’s painting session, a brown that contains all the colours: the slops of the fens draining green and yellow crops; red poppies; ruddy dust carried from Bedfordshire brick pits via a life in the breeding breast plumage of black-tailed godwits; black soil laid into the heart of heads of green celery; the polar white of Bewick’s swans, brought to the Ouse from arctic Russia; pink-footed geese’s pink feet ripening like tundra berries beneath them; the shelduck’s umber; the dunlin’s dun; even the hated mink’s black-brown stole. All these raw colours are washed down as silt, salted by the sea, to join the mud. Add any more you like; everything becomes brown.” p34-35

Imagine being able to look down a giant microscope to compare two laboratory slides of cross sections of Britain, one made in the winter and one in the spring. Thinks how the edge of the section grows so extraordinarily when the spring comes. […In Spring…] The earth is stretching. The world has a new growing edge. Every twig holds a hundred leaves, every branch a thousand more, and the drawn line must extend around each leaf as it opens. The surface of the world has ballooned. The black pen must be swapped for a green brush. Add birdsong to this cross section. Think what the shift from thin winter contacts calls to the open-throated full spring song of residents and the new returning summer visitors does to the volume of the world. Add the blackcap’s fruit-juice song in the lime tree above the raven’s next in the biomass, and so extend the line around the world. Calculate the din. p187

“I have seen and heard far more nightingales in Europe than in England but I still identify the birds’ night music as English without quite knowing why: the feel it has of old tunes being suggested and replayed, of jam in an otherwise Spartan diet, of the lustre of the night sky once London is out the way, of the phantoms of the Second World War that fill East Anglia and the Home Counties with aerodromes and pillboxes, and concrete overrun with brambles.” p198

“The song thrush is a diarist and the blackbird a lullaby-singer. The song thrush’s song is an account of what has gone on, a record of struggle, hardship, fear, joy and passion. The blackbird knows this – we remember its detonating alarm rattles and its dusk chinks and chooks – but its singing urge is to smooth, to take the heat out of the day and to lull it to sleep. The song thrush’s song is a haw; the blackbird’s is a ripe blackberry.” p221

Ceri Levy, writing a review for the Caught By The River website (see link below) captures the craft of The Running Sky perfectly:

…it reads like a large, perfectly formed prose poem. He describes events, people, emotions and thoughts in the same eloquent way. Rich sentences drip from each page and at times the book needs to be put down to let the word-woven tapestry sink in properly.

After reading The Running Sky I found myself listening for birdsong and delighting in becoming aware of it, as if for the first time.


Despite it being an utterly foreign language and the birds unknown to me, birdsong now accompanies and enriches my walking.

It’s a secret world.

And, at 50 I’ve begun to feel its magic.

Further Reading:
My review of Tim Dee’s Four Fields can be read HERE.

Thanks to the Caught by the River website, I found films like this:

and there are even more of these dazzling films HERE.



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