Tag Archives: nature

Nature in January

My relationship with the cycle of the seasons is weakest at this time of year. I don’t reliably go out every day, and when I do go out it isn’t for as long and I don’t walk as far, so I don’t encounter as many wild things.  But at the same time, this is a response to the season and a consequence of the nature of my own animal body.

January is a variable month – it can be freezing, it can be mild, this year it seems to be shifting between the two.  For me, it always feels like an in between month. In terms of wild things, mostly what I’m looking for is how early things are that I think should be showing up in February – the snowdrops, the buds fattening on trees, the first green shoots at ground level. This year I note tree leaves already opening, primroses in bloom and other unseasonal things.

My body does badly with the cold. I am more sore, and more stiff in cold weather. I layer up, I wrap up, I do all manner of things to protect against this but even so there’s an impact. Being outside when it is very cold takes a serious toll no matter how well dressed I am. That notion that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing is fundamentally wrong if you have body issues and/or a limited budget. I can’t afford to get soaked to the skin in winter. I know that my coat cannot fend off the worst of the downpours. Sometimes, I really can’t afford to go outside much.

‘Get out into nature’ is not a universal cure-all, and sometimes smacks of ableism. Winter can be limiting, not all bodies handle it well. If we are interested in encountering nature, we have to start with how we manifest it – our bodies are nature too. Nature is not always kind or convenient, and this is true of human bodies also.  It’s best not to assume anything about how the nature in a person’s body interacts with the wildness outside of it. 


Nature, silence and quiet

Silence isn’t especially natural. In most places where there is life, water or wind, there will be sound – deep caves may be silent, and there may be silence in very thick fog, but that’s about it. However, in an insulated human home, it can be truly silent. I find this disconcerting, and it is always an issue for me at the point in the year when I have to close windows at night. Sometimes I can still hear the owls, but I have to be incredibly quiet and paying attention.

Nature tends to offer us quiet and subtle soundscapes. Some things are loud and raucous – seagulls, high winds, fox songs… but many wild things are subtle and easily missed. For me, the soundscape is as much a part of the experience of being outside as the visual appearance of the landscape is. Unfortunately, a lot of people miss out on this – interested in the picturesque, but oblivious to a lot of what is around them. I say this with confidence having observed other people out walking in parks and at beauty spots.

I’m always amazed by people who go out into ‘nature’ and are then so busy with themselves that they don’t seem to see, and most assuredly cannot hear whatever is around them. People for whom landscape is aerobic exercise, parental guilt appeased, or post-lunch attempts at virtue. I see them not seeing the wild things – where I have paused for a buzzard, raven or deer and they walk on by with no sense of what’s looking at them.

When you talk loudly with other humans, the sounds of the landscape are drowned out. The subtle tinkle of a small stream. The rustle of small rodents in the undergrowth. The calls of small birds – and larger ones. Sound is often the best clue for spotting wild beings and the person intent on a good conversation won’t pick up these clues. What frustrates me is the number of people who are really loud in beautiful places, not just wiping out their own scope for hearing anything other than their own voices, but filling the landscape with their banality. Perhaps they can’t hear how quiet it is. Perhaps the quiet unsettles them, so they fill it with noise. There’s nothing quite like walking in a beautiful place and having the landscape filled with someone’s loud and wholly tedious conversation about some TV show.

At this time of year, if you are quiet, you can hear the leaves falling. You can hear them as they brush against other leaves on the way down. You can hear them as they meet the undergrowth, or land gently on the earth. It is a soft, subtle sound, and it is beautiful, and enchanting, and not available when people are talking loudly. Life is full of such opportunities for small beauty and magic, but often we’re too busy talking over it to even notice.


Seasonal windows

One of the key shifts in the seasons, for me, is the point at which I have to start closing windows at night. Most years this means there will be a few nights where the indoor temperature gets very low before I’ll admit that I really do have to shut the windows. It’s always hard and an unhappy moment.

When the windows are open, the internal home space is much more connected to the outside world. Bird song is a constant during the day. I can hear the nearby stream from the bedroom. Owls are much more audible at night. Closing the windows shuts out an entire soundscape. I can no longer hear the wind in the trees, or the leaves skittering about. It is a loss I feel keenly. Of course it also comes at the time of year when sitting outside is getting to be a good deal less viable as well.

I will get outside more days than not, and I spend time at the closed windows, but my relationship with all that is wild and natural changes at this point in the year. My body is not robust enough to tolerate getting cold – that makes me even more sore and stiff than I would otherwise be.

What I crave is some sort of sheltered, permeable space that would work all year round. Living in an upstairs flat, there’s no liminal space I can sit in. There are outside spaces here, but nothing sheltered and I am not allowed to put up a small shelter. It would make worlds of difference to me to have a space where I could sit in all weathers and seasons, be dry and out of the worst of the wind, and also not entirely indoors. With my own garden, this would be easy to achieve.


Wildness and culture

Often, the wilderness is represented as the enemy of, or the opposite of human civilization and culture.  This is, I think, one of the notions that underpins our dysfunctional western cultures and that can be blamed for a lot of our destructive thinking.

All too often, the desire for human civilization becomes the desire for power over the natural world. That in turn becomes an inclination to make everything unnatural – straighten out the rivers, plant the trees in rows, grow vast monocultures, and so forth. We cut the grass at the side of the road because we tell ourselves it looks tidier. What we’ve decided is ‘neat’ and therefore desirable, is stale and predictable.

When we make environments based on the desire to be tidy and in control, we make places that are harmful to humans. We don’t thrive in our austere urban spaces. Our mental health is improved by the presence of trees. We find solace in flowing water and flourishing plants.

Culture doesn’t thrive on sterility either. The best that we do as humans is more complex, and does not grow naturally in straight lines either. Poetry and art, music and extreme maths, philosophy and ethics, science and technology – our most creative thinking is not best served by our most sterile and limited impulses.

So, why do we do it? Why do we force our cities and lives into rigid forms that hurt us? Who benefits from having both people and the landscape under this kind of control? Most of us do not benefit. Most of us are made poorer by this process that has been with us for some hundreds of years.

Straight lines are efficient.  Tidy minds are less likely to have the inspiration for a revolution.

Our environments shape who we are. There is plenty of evidence now to make it clear that we are better, happier and healthier people when we live with trees. And yet we make tree-less environments that bring out the worst in us. And as those environments shape us we become the kind of people who live in empty, lifeless spaces and make straight lines out of our lives.

The wilderness was never the enemy of culture. Wildness is the rich soil in which human civilizations grow and flourish. I wonder how much our collective obsession with tidiness and control is a symptom of a dying civilization. We’ve been harming ourselves in this way for a long time now. Little wonder that so many of us have no idea how to live, and little desire to act in ways that would make life more viable.


Singing the Trees

A guest blog by Vishwam Heckert

For some years, I have found myself listening to trees. At first it was just their presence … a feeling of someone there who had much to share. As my practice of heart meditation has deepened, more information is received and I find the trees sharing words or images with me. It is such a beautiful way to connect with nature – so direct! I’d been hearing from friends that many trees are getting sick … from the environmental strains of our times. One day in the autumn, I found myself asking a tree how we could help. She showed me the image of people in a circle around a tree, holding hands and singing together – singing with the tree. I’ve since been talking with my teacher about these things and she is telling me that every tree is a living prayer – always connected with earth and with what is beyond.
I found myself talking with an old friend, who sometimes goes by the name Frida Go, about doing some kind of work together to support people during lockdown. We have a long history of shared love for the Earth and the memory of this vision showed itself again … and so an event was born. I wasn’t sure if it was too far out for people, but we had a large group come together, each connecting with trees in different places … and even different countries. As it was so popular, and so very beautiful, we’re holding another circle of Singing the Trees a week on Sunday. All are welcome! Contributions of various kinds, including financial, are welcome but not expected. We are doing this for the trees primarily.

As so many people loved the last one, we’re coming together to Sing the Trees once again!

This is a beautiful opportunity to deepen your connection with nature and voice. In these times, we are being a bit more like the trees – staying in stillness, more rooted, getting to know our neighbours. The trees are our neighbours, our friends, our family. They produce the air we breathe and give so much more. Here’s an opportunity to give back – to honour our friends with song and prayer.

Indigenous wisdom from around the world recognises an innate intelligence in trees, as in all of life. Modern biologists are learning how trees communicate and care for one another, and increasingly even physicists suggest that consciousness is inherent in all matter. Whatever our own sense of non-human beings’ experience may be, it can be very special to take some time to stop, breathe, and connect with our always immobile neighbours – the trees.

Maybe there’s a tree you already know you’d like to sing with? Or maybe you’d like to get to know a tree before we meet? Together, online and each in our different places, we will take this time to tune in with love and kindness and our hearts’ prayers. With gentle support and guidance from your hosts, we will listen to the trees around and find the sounds or song that wants to come through where they grow. Any sounds that come may be silent and inward, gently hummed, a pretty tune may or may not emerge or even some wild sound.. you may prefer to work choose a tree somewhere you will feel relaxed should other humans hear your sounds 😉

Whatever emerges will be perfect and unique: to you, to the tree you choose and to that place and time.

The morning (or the time where you are) will include a little space to introduce ourselves, some warming up our voices and connecting with the land, with our hearts through meditation, and with the trees. We’ll turn off our microphones and cameras for a while to connect with the trees in a quiet space together and rejoin for a closing circle at the end.

We will be connecting through Zoom, so you may wish to find a tree located where you definitely have access either to phone or data signal. You might wish to use headphones so you can listen to the guidance without others being disturbed. If it’s raining or you are staying in your home for other reasons, you can connect with a tree that you know or perhaps a photograph of one. Please arrive 5 minutes early with your phone’s notifications off to settle in and relax.

Suggested contribution for the event is £10 (paying less if you have less, nothing if you need, and welcome to pay more if you have more) for you with a portion of proceeds going to support Three Streams (Scotland) https://three-streams.org/

You can send your contribution via http://paypal.me/vishwamheart

To register your place, please email vishwam@heartoflivingyoga.com

Facilitators

Frida Go is … a semi-feral adventurer, art school garden chaplain, Initiate of the Western Mysteries, Master of Fine Arts & Science

Vishwam Heckert is a gentle listener, Heart Of Living Yoga Teacher & Teacher Trainer, and Doctor of Philosophy (the wisdom of love) http://flowingwithlife.org/


Druidry and Blackbirds

Of course blackbirds are in the animal oracle and do come up in myths, so they weren’t on my list of creatures to consider from a Druid perspective. But, none of that content here, this post is all about personal experience.

For some years now, we’ve put bird seed on the living room windowsill and had visitations from blue tits and great tits. This year, we’ve got a couple of blackbirds. This has turned out to be much more exciting because they don’t just grab food and fly, they hang around.

Tom and I sit at the window to work, so we’re very close to where the birds might come in. The blackbirds land on the window sill – there’s a male and a female visiting, they show up one at a time. Initially they were nervous about us and if we moved or made any noise they would flee at once.

Now they’re curious, and they pause to watch us, and when we say hello, they do not fly away. I’ve had some extended periods of eye contact, watching the blackbird as it watches me in turn.

It is always powerful when a wild thing looks back at you. To feel accepted by a bird, to be found interesting and not threatening, is also powerful. I listen for the sound of their beating wings, for the scrabble of beaks gathering seed. They’ve become part of my day and I am so glad to see them.

I’m not experiencing any messages here, or any sense of the supernatural. It is however the simplest kind of magic – the kind that comes from making a connection and being affected by that. A gentle, heart opening magic.

What is curious is that the blackbirds have also tried the windows on the other side of the flat, where my son has also put out food. It’s a big enough block of flats, and you’d think ideas about human living arrangements might be a bit complicated and alien for birds, but there they are, showing up at our other windows.


Druids and Worms

Worms should be one of the beings we hold most sacred. They are essential to the life of the soil, and human life depends so much on that vitality. Worms pull plant matter down into the existing soil, and eat it, breaking it down and releasing the nutrients back into the earth. The way in which they move through the soil aerates the ground, and is part of how the structure of the soil is created.

Worms are one of the key the means by which death is turned back into life. They are engineers of this most essential process. Pagans honour the cycles of life and death so we should hold in the highest possible esteem the beings who drive that cycle. And yet, I’ve never encountered anyone celebrating worms in this way.

Worms are suffering as a consequence of human pollution. They are the creators of life, and any threat to them is a threat to us all. We need to protect them in any way we can.

An individual worm isn’t a dramatic entity. They are small, quiet, easily overlooked and living underground, are mostly invisible to us. They do not demand our attention. We don’t have famous worm Gods at whose shrines people might make offerings. We overlook their power and their magic at our peril.

The best shrine you can make to the worms, is a compost heap. Feed them, engage with them, make a home for them that you are fully conscious of. Bring them offerings every day of the food you did not want, the peels and skins and inedible bits. Offer up your rubbish to them, in recognition that they will turn that rubbish into rich food for the soil. You give them the most worthless things you have, and in return, they give you life. It is a relationship that should make anyone feel humble, and that reminds us that power is not always self announcing.


Druidry and the dormouse

I’ve never seen a dormouse in the wild – but that’s not unusual. They are shy creatures and they have an aversion to putting their feet on the ground. It means they are particularly affected by the presence or absence of green corridors connecting areas of woodland. Their cute, sleeping forms are, as a consequence, a popular image for the Woodland Trust and for other organisations trying to reconnect the fragments of our remaining wild places.

They have a great deal of power as an icon for vanishing wildlife, and as this is the way I have most experience of them, it’s the one I’m going to focus on. Activism on behalf of the natural world is something many Druids do. As individuals we may be enthused about all kinds of aspects of nature. However, most people are moved by cute things they can readily identify with.

The sleeping dormouse is adorable. Small, soft, furry, harmless, vulnerable – it pushes all the right buttons to get people caring about woods and trees. It can be difficult to get people to care, there are so many pressures to do that, and emotive content tends to have an impact. I don’t like approaches that over-play on your emotions because I think they just add to the problem. But, cute dormouse is cute and engages people without hurting them.

Dormice hibernate and my understanding is that their name comes from the Latin and that the Romans liked to eat them. However, our sense of them as sleepy creatures owes largely to Alice in Wonderland’s sleepy dormouse, and to mostly only seeing pictures of dormice having a kip. When they aren’t hibernating, they’re busily doing the things mice do, only inside hedges at night, so you won’t see them being active. The story about the dormouse is far more prominent than the reality of the creature itself.

Dormice are not available to most of us. To encounter them you’d likely need some training and the opportunity to participate in dormouse-specific projects. But, dormice are not commodities. They don’t exist to teach us, or for that matter to charm us. They may be good fluffy posterboys and girls for raising environmental awareness, but they do not exist for us. As most of us cannot engage with them directly they raise questions about the service we might unconsciously expect from nature, and our feelings of entitlement to have access to everything. Dormice owe us nothing, and perhaps the best way to honour them (aside from protecting their habitats) is actually to leave them in peace.


Spring and courting birds

I expect there are a great many birds out there right now establishing territories and seeking mates. I don’t know all of my feathered neighbours well enough to spot the changes in what they do. However, the blackbirds and woodpeckers have been really noticeable over the weekend.

The blackbirds seem – in so far as I can tell – to be squabbling. It doesn’t look much like courtship at this stage, more like figuring out who gets which spot. I’ve stepped outside repeatedly only to find them making a great deal of noise and chasing each other off. It’s not always easy with birds to work out whether chasing is about the desire to catch or the intention to move the other bird on. However, the tone seems irate to me.

The woodpeckers are simply making a lot of noise – often I don’t see the birds themselves. I hear their loud calls even through closed windows, and they’ve been doing this for some days. It’s rare to hear them normally, the intensity of calling has definitely gone up. I am inferring courtship, but this could be about territory. Most of my reason for inferring courtship is that I know they’ve bred round here in previous years. You don’t tend to get as high a population density in woodpeckers as you do in blackbirds so boundaries may be less of an issue. Yesterday I saw a pair of woodpeckers in flight – some distance from home, but possibly the same ones.

What I notice and what I infer may tell me things about what’s on my mind. I do not assume messages from any other source when I notice things in this way. The blackbirds and woodpeckers are busy with their own lives. Any meaning I take from them pertains to me, and I think it’s important to be clear about that. Nature does not exist simply to send us messages and guide us.


Seeking wildness

When we talk about wildness, in the natural world and in the human psyche, we tend to mean something uncontrolled. So a storm is wild, but a gentle spring day isn’t. Rampant lust, extravagant actions, and unguarded behaviour may be labelled wild, or feral in humans. We don’t talk about sleeping as wild, even though it’s one of those basic, mammalian activities. We’re much more alert to the wildness of large predators than we are to small birds living wild in our gardens.

Often, this means that ‘wild’ is a criticism, and the opposite of civilized. It’s a way of thinking that does not help us preserve wildness. It reserves everything tame for the human sphere, so it also undermines our sense of how much we are part of nature.

Wildness isn’t just exoticism, danger, excess and intensity. Wildness exists in the flowers growing at the margins. It’s there in a cool summer morning, and in the slushy greys of a winter day. There is wildness in our parks and gardens. It doesn’t have to be all about drama.

In ourselves, we are wild when we are sleepy and want to curl up in a sunny spot for a while. We’re wild when we’re picking blackberries, when we sweat and when we move around. We might only notice our wildness when it manifests as drama, but really it’s there any time we put our feet on the ground or expose our heads to the sky. It’s there when there’s rain on your face, and when the wind ruffles your hair. It’s there when you seek comfort from the fur or skin of another living being.

You don’t have to be running mad in a forest to be wild. You don’t have to be out of control to be wild – most wild things are not out of control. You don’t have to be extreme or unreasonable – most mammals live in cooperative groups. If we can reclaim the gentler forms wildness takes, we can stop setting up civilization as the opposite of wildness and better see how the two can inter-relate.