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(T)he world is full of signs and wonders that come, and go, and if you are lucky you might see them. Once, twice. Perhaps never again.


"He'd come home from work strangely disheartened one winter evening. We asked him what was wrong. 'Did you see the sky today?' he said. He'd been walking through a London park on his way back from a press-call. It was deserted but for a small boy playing by a frozen boating lake. 'I said, "Look up, look at that. Remember you saw that. You'll never see it again."' Above them both was a vast tracery of ice-rings and sun-dogs in a wintry, hazy sky. A 22 degree halo, a circumzenithal arc and an upper tangent arc, the sun's light refracting and cutting the heavens into a complicated geometry of ice and air and fire. But the boy didn't seem interested at all. Dad was baffled. 'Maybe he though you were one of those strange men,' we sniggered, rolling our eyes, and he looked embarrassed and faintly cross. But he was so very sad about the boy who didn't see.

Now that Dad was gone I was starting to see how mortality was bound up in things like that cold, arc-lit sky. How the world is full of signs and wonders that come, and go, and if you are lucky you might see them. Once, twice. Perhaps never again. The albums on my mother's shelves are full of family photographs. But also other things. A starling with a crooked beak. A day of hoarfrost and smoke. A cherry tree thick with blossom. Thunderclouds, lightning strikes, comets and eclipses: celestial events terrifying in their blind distances but reassuring you, too, that the world is for ever, though you are only a blink in its course.

Henri Cartier-Bresson called the taking of a good photograph a decisive moment. 'Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera,' he said. 'The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone for ever.' I thought of one of these moments as I sat there waiting for the hawk to eat from my hand. It was a black-and-white photograph my father had taken many years ago of an elderly street-cleaner wtih a white goatee beard, wrinkled socks and down-at-heel shoes. Crumpled work trousers, work gloves, a woollen beret. The camera is low, on the pavement: Dad must have crouched in the road to take it. The man is bending down, his besom of birch twigs propped against his side. He has taken off one of his gloves, and between the thumb and first finger of his bare right hand he is offering a crumb of bread to a sparrow on the kerbstone. The sparrow is caught mid-hop at exactly the moment it takes the crumb from his fingers. And the expression on the man's face is suffused with joy. He is wearing the face of an angel."


"It struck me then that perhaps the bareness and wrongness of the world was an illusion; that things might still be real, and right, and beautiful, even if I could not see them -- that if I stood in the right place, and was lucky, this might somehow be revealed to me."


"The world is full of signs and wonders that come, and go, and if you are lucky you might be alive to see them."

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