March 24th

After the strange heat of February came stormy March, with windy spell running into windy spell such that it seemed, as I’ve always liked to say, that we were living at sea. A good reminder that, as inhabitants of an island perched on the edge of Atlantic, we pretty much do. Alas that of late it feels like an end-of-era Atlantis, an island that is gradually sinking. The good ship SS Great Britain is holed below the waterline and foundering, not so iron-hulled and sturdy as her more noisy cheerleaders would have us believe.

Just as the political storm gathers full strength, the real winds have died down and given way to a gloriously temperate spring. Mild, not hot; cool breeze, warm sun and air with a delicious, fresh-laundered scent. The air is rich with the fruity song of blackbirds, especially in the early evening. Their song always strikes me as so beautifully homely. Woodlarks or nightingales may have wilder toned or more showy repertoires, respectively, but they’re birds of special habitats these days, not part of the everyday nature that soundtracks our lives. Conservation action targets the rare, but arguably we need blackbirds more. That may be one reason the recent epidemic of netted hedges and trees has stirred up such strong emotions.

This afternoon I’ve heeded the blackbirds’ song and stayed here in our garden. I mowed those parts of the lawn that I keep short, navigating round some blooming celandines. Sowed vegetables, herbs and wildflowers. Trimmed some ivy and dead stems round the edges, pausing for a few minutes here and there to watch the small creatures disturbed by my gardening – woodlice, yellow ants, springtails, millipedes. Watching life in miniature is as effective a form of meditation as I’ve ever known, one I have probably practiced without knowing it since I was a child. I don’t often enough. When everything in the world seems to be changing, it can feel like the only appropriate response is to take a view, to move, to act. Sometimes, it’s better just to sit under the tree where the blackbird sings, and be.

7 thoughts on “March 24th

  1. You’re right. Meditating with insects seems to be the way forward. I’m just reading Dave Gould’s ‘A Buzz in the Meadow’ which has introduced me to more insect life than I have ever known about, and will make my own peering-at-crevices much more interesting in future. I love your metaphor at the end of the first paragraph, SS Great Britain can no longer be described as the good ship. Unfortunately.

    • I enjoy his books very much. Witty as well as informative. I’m afraid you may be right about SSGB, but I try to live in hope. The metaphor first arose in song a few years ago, one we wrote before the EU referendum based on events of the previous decade but it keeps seeming more and more appropriate. Here’s a rudimentary live version from a few year ago – hoping to record a half-decent one next weekend!

  2. I couldn’t agree more Chris. My favourite author Richard Jefferies had this to say …

    […] At some point – when I seemed to have more time – I used to walk in the summer meadows; to sit under an old tree – to rejoice in the sheer beauty of Nature …. I cannot leave it; I must stay under the old tree in the midst of the long grass, the luxury of the leaves, and the song in the very air. I seem as if I could feel all the glowing life the sunshine gives and the south wind calls to being. The endless grass, the endless leaves, the immense strength of the oak expanding, the unalloyed joy of finch and blackbird; from all of them I receive a little. Each gives me something of the pure joy they gather for themselves […]

    I think he summed it up pretty well in this charming picture of a garden – ‘a place to eat and drink and think of nothing in …’

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