Keep the Faith

This blogging week is starting to turn into a bit of a tribute to my friends and family, and that’s OK by me. Of course, like most people I find much of humanity somewhat troublesome, but life would be much the poorer without those people I’m pleased to call friends. One such person is my wife’s brother-in-law, Garnet*, who has been blogging for over a year about his continuing medical adventures at ‘Thinking Clearly’. His story is best told in his own words, which are as hopeful and downright amusing an account as you could wish to find of facing what must be a very difficult thing. Do give his blog a read – in fact, I owe him philosophical thanks for reminding me of the worth of blogging and an insight into how to do it well, and more practical thanks for finding WordPress as a platform.

The reason I mention him is that the recurring signoff from his blog, ‘Keeping the Faith’, was in my head this week as I twice trundled around Sevenoaks Wildfowl Reserve, our local temple to the birding and general nature-fancying pastimes. It’s a diverting enough place, with no fewer than eight hides – and plenty of the gravel pit local nature reserve style regulars I’m used to from the likes of Dinton pastures in Reading: numerous tufties, gadwall, pochard and teal, squabbling black-headed gulls, what looks like good potential for warblers, and some very lovely slightly aged trees, alive with treecreepers and the odd woodpecker, both great-spotted and green (with lesser-spotted just about clinging on as an elusive resident – though none seen or heard by me on either walk).

It was all very nice, all very pleasant, but somehow left me unmoved. Not all that bothered. Wondering when something better might turn up.  I worried, as I sometimes do, if I really was interested in birds – shouldn’t these perfectly lovely things be enough? What more did I want, exactly? ‘Keep the Faith’ ran through my mind as I felt that if I would just stay out for a little longer, bird a little harder, I’d find whatever it was I was waiting for, dispel all doubt, and bird onwards with renewed intensity. Naturally, I expected that the something just around the corner was likely to be of extreme rarity or at the very least a first 2012 sighting of a favourite returning migrant. I’m ambitious like that.

As it happened, what I had been waiting for turned out instead to be a very common bird I’d seen numerous times over the past week. Returning to the car at the end of my second jaunt around the reserve, a robin sang from a nearby branch, as many had, but this time I could almost have reached out and touched him. I stopped, he froze, looked right into my eyes, and then went on singing. I was rooted to the spot – bathed in the robin’s song which reached right inside me and at that moment I would have sworn was performed for my benefit alone. Strong, sweet, and joyful, yet tinged with some ancient melancholy, he sang as only a robin can. I felt my spirits restored with every note.

It would be easy to sneer, and many do, at the idea that a moderate interest in birds is akin to ‘faith’, that it is possible to have ‘doubt’. As if birding was a religion. That there could be something quasi-spiritual about watching what are, in the end, evolved organisms no more wondrous than you or I, or listening to their functional pair-bonding, territory-holding, mate-attracting songs. It all sounds terribly unscientific. Disney-fied robins singing gaily from cartoon branches, heads cocked, eyes soft and friendly? Singing for the sheer heck of it, not to impress the robin ladies but some bumbling bearded be-hatted birder in need of a little lift? Time for a reality check, surely.

Perhaps not always. Inspiration is, after all, inspiration, wherever it comes from. I’m suspicious of the reductive version of science, indeed, of life itself, that refuses to indulge whimsy and wonder. In my ‘professional’ bird- life I’m as dedicated to evidence, I hope, as the next researcher. But I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t admit that robin-singing-on-the-branch moments of magic weren’t the thing that kept me going out there. I need them, and I can’t help but feel they’re nature’s way of keeping faith with me, in return for my keeping faith with the hobby that so inspires me and the career that I’m embarking on. Spreadsheets and papers and proper surveys, clipboard in hand, all interest and inspire me to a degree, but they don’t quite stir the soul.

With that, I hope that whatever the thing that inspires you is (so long as it isn’t overly harmful to others and the planet – if so, stop it at once, you scoundrel!) it continues to grant you robin-song intrusions of joy, peace and grace into your daily life. Love what you do: even if for a moment it all feels slightly boring, I reckon those who keep the faith regardless will find that it keeps them in return. **

Though very far away, I can assure you this is a Tufted Duck X Pochard hybrid. I think. Quite a handsome shade of mahogany on the head.

*In other words my ‘brother-in-law-in-law’: being thus entirely unrelated by blood, we find friend an easier word.

**If I’m going off the rails here, I might blame the temporary interruption of this writing session by the World’s Loudest Fire Alarm ™. I perhaps ought to have put two and two together and made a connection between the presence of a van outside labelled ‘Fire Alarm Servicing’ and impending aural apocalypse, but then, I only have the brain of an ape. At least if I never now hear a goldcrest again, I’ll know who to blame. A little warning would have been nice so I could have stuffed tissue in my ears before the first blast. This coming hot on the heels of my weekend defeat in a fight with a shrubbery. And the bathroom medicine cabinet. Sevenoaks is a dangerous place.


2 thoughts on “Keep the Faith

  1. We were poking around in the dark looking for Great Uncle Roy’s flat – I was trying to read the number of a gate and didn’t see the thorny branch in my way. Left a big scratch across my nose!

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