In the middle of leaf-fall, the canal is black and gold. The waters seem infinitely dark and deep in the low sunlight but the trees in the cutting are bursting with autumn leaves which are doubled in reflection and then released to settle like tiny craft on a placid sea. This season seems set on shades of brown and beige, the weather disinclined to invoke the more dazzling array of scarlet and sunset we might hope for.
Suddenly, leaves coalesce into something with agency – the golden brown front of a kingfisher detaches itself from the background and swathes itself in iridescent blue before disappearing upstream. A rapidly diminishing silhouette it flies low and hard into the sun-sheet of the canal and is lost against the glare.
French legend has it that the kingfisher gained his techni-colour coat when he was sent from Noah’s ark to seek land. He flew high to avoid a storm, where lightning struck and coloured his dull plumage a brilliant electric blue. Sensing the warmth of the sun, the kingfisher flew toward it, burning the autumn bronze onto his chest as he grew too close, marking his rump the same as he turned tail and returned to earth.
When the kingfisher dropped back below the clouds, he found himself too late, the waters had subsided. Animal pairs had become four’s, four’s had become eight’s and Noah was nowhere to be seen. Even today, the kingfisher still searches the rivers for his lost master.
I don’t see this kingfisher again, I cycle another mile of towpath before a bridge which takes me up, over and away towards home.