I Giorni Della Merla

Yesterday’s afternoon cleared up briskly to reveal not only blue skies but the first substantial snowfall on the Prato Fiorito which is 4625 feet high and just behind us.

The Refubbri waterfall on the way down to Bagni was cascading with rapidly melting snow:

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Crossing the bridge at Borgo a Mozzano revealed the main Apennine ridge, which is around 6000 feet high, covered with snow. The effect at sunset when the snow turned into a rosy hue was so beautiful.

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As happened with perhaps the coldest winter in living memory in the UK, that of 1946-7 when temperatures dropped below minus 20 degree centigrade, things only really started to get cold at the end of January.

We are in the thick of “i giorni della merla”, the days of the blackbird, when the coldest part of winter hits us between the last week of January and the first week of February. Strictly speaking, the days of the blackbird are the last three days in January. So the weather has been true to traditional prediction.

There is a local legend about this which was told to me in Italian. As a fun thing to do I’ve turned the Italian prose into English verse!



 White Common Blackbird - Turdus merula

Snow upon snow fell on the whitebirds’ nest –

the winter had never been so cold.

Beneath the eaves the bitter chill compressed

their little lives exposed, unconsoled.


“If it carries on like this,” daddy bird moaned,

“we’ll nevermore see the spring again”.

“Our little ones will soon die,” the mother groaned,

 “so very soon, but who will know when?”


The parents tried to pick a few crumbs of bread

before they too were hidden by snow.

Their feathered hearts were filled with iced-up dread.

while a hard north wind began to blow.


“We must decide now or die” the parents said.

“Let’s move our nest near that chimney pot;

while I go and hunt for food you stay in bed

and keep warm next to that cosy spot”.


So all that day mummy bird and her three chicks

kept by the stack which blew warmth and smoke.

What clever birds they’d been to think of these tricks:

free all-day heating for avian folk!


But when the father returned, beak-full of food,

he didn’t recognize his wife and kids;

the smoke had made all their feathers quite, quite dark-hued

from their tails right up to their eye-lids.


“No matter,” he said, “we’ll rename ourselves.

From now humans will call us ‘black bird’

and goblins and nymphs, sprites and wood elves

throughout the land will spread this new word.”


And so it was that the birds survived the freeze

and that now the whitebird is black;

and I’m sure it’s all, as everyone agrees,

thanks to that useful chimney-stack!





3 thoughts on “I Giorni Della Merla

  1. A very moving account of bird lore whether it is fable or fact is resounds well and is truly amazing wonderfully retold in poetic notes I always enjoy a good story about Nature. The weather is truly getting colder it is still Winter and maybe will get worse as we have been forewarned in the long term weather forecast. I do hope not as this can be so disruptive to people’s lives. It is certainly a boon for children though to have that white thing called snow!

  2. Pingback: Of Marmots and Candles | From London to Longoio (and Lucca and Beyond) Part Two

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