Tag Archives: nature

How to Create Your Wildlife Community

A Guest Blog from Aspasίa S. Bissas

Experiencing community is one of the more rewarding aspects of life, especially when you find it in unexpected places. In my last guest post on Druid Life I wrote about my wildlife community; in this post I thought I’d share some tips on how you can forge a relationship with your local wildlife and create your own, perhaps unexpected, community.

Learn About Wildlife: If you want to get along with wildlife, you need to know how. What do you do if you come across a nest of baby bunnies? Is it okay to feed birds bread? How should you react if you come face to face with a coyote? A great source of information are wildlife rescue organizations. Find the one(s) in your general area and check out their websites or follow them on social media. Here in Toronto we have a fantastic group, the Toronto Wildlife Centre. Wildlife conservation groups are another good option, but be careful—some of them are little more than advocates for hunters.

Provide Habitat: Once you learn what kind of wildlife live in your area and what sorts of needs they have, you can help them by providing habitat. If you have a yard, you’ve got habitat, and it can be as simple as not removing dead plants and leaves from your garden in autumn, or as elaborate as planting specifically for wildlife and adding a pond. You can even make your garden an official Certified Wildlife Habitat.

Provide Food: First, find out which animals can be fed and are likely to need the help (as well as which ones should never be fed). Once you’re informed and are committed to providing food—whether a pot of flowers for bees, or feeding stations for different species—it’s important to always be consistent with the frequency and amount of food offered. It can be disastrous for wildlife if the food supply they’ve come to depend on suddenly stops. Providing water year-round is also a big help.

Protect Them: One of the best ways to keep wildlife safe is to keep your cats indoors (or, if you must let them out, use an enclosed space like a catio). Not only is it better for wildlife, but your cats will also live longer, happier, healthier lives. Outdoor cats decimate wildlife, in some cases wiping out entire species of birds. It’s not their fault—all cats have a strong instinct to hunt, which is why it’s important to give indoor cats toys and playtime. Being outside puts cats at risk from disease, cars, other animals, and unkind humans. They can also get lost, and contrary to a common myth, pet cats don’t do well when they have to fend for themselves. To quote The Little Prince: “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

Other ways you can protect wildlife include never using glue traps (they’re inhumane and tend to catch everything, not just rodents), checking your lawn for small creatures before cutting the grass, and making sure water features are shallow enough for small birds and animals to get out easily if they’ve fallen in (you can put large stones in deeper water to give them something to climb onto).

Be Respectful: Show wildlife respect by keeping your distance, not allowing pets or children to chase or harass them, and not making a lot of noise or big movements. Prey animals like rabbits appreciate not being stared at. Sometimes when I’m out walking I’ll cross paths with wildlife. If they’re in the middle of crossing the road I’ll back off to let them finish so they’re not stuck waiting in the street, potentially putting themselves at risk. Sometimes they retreat until I’ve passed. I do always say hello, though; it’s only polite.

Help Wildlife: If you’re on social media, spread the word—share posts by wildlife rescue organizations, tell your followers what they can do, and talk about conservation issues. If you’ve got time or money, consider volunteering or donating. Some wildlife groups ask people to help with research, usually by recording what animals they spot in their local area—consider taking part. Keep an eye out for orphaned or injured animals, and if you find any get them to your local rescue (don’t try to take care of them yourself—animals need specialized care that the untrained simply can’t provide).

Get to Know Them: Chances are if you have habitat, food, and water, you’ll be seeing a lot of wildlife, and often the same animals will keep returning. If you pay attention, you should be able to start telling who’s who. If you can wear the same type or colour of clothing whenever you fill the feeder or work in your garden it’ll help them get to know you too. Once they feel they can trust you they’ll still be wary, but you may be rewarded with memorable encounters.

As long as we live in proximity to wildlife, we’re already part of a community. But if we want to be good members of that community we need to make an effort. Given the negative impact humans have made, and continue to make, on the world around us, taking the time to help your community can make all the difference.

Aspasía S. Bissas is a seeker of everyday magic, and is the author of the dark fantasy novel Love Lies Bleeding. She can be reached via her website, or her Facebook page.

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Autumnal shifts

It’s been later getting cold this year than is usually the case. I still haven’t got any heating on at home, I sit here typing wearing a long sleeved shirt, and no jumper. No doubt this is climate change at work, but I admit to feeling gratitude alongside my unease. I struggle with being cold; my body hurts more and flexes less in cold weather.

I have poor circulation and can get chilblains, so autumn always means shifting away from being barefoot, and needing to wear gloves while outside. I have lightweight gloves for this time of year, and much heavier ones for if it gets really cold. My body informs my experience of the seasons in very direct ways. In the cold half of the year I have to resist what the season does to me.  Nature as manifest in my body and nature as manifest in the season are never going to be in harmony.

Of course this isn’t just an issue for me. Some birds migrate to deal with shifting seasons. Hedgehogs and bears hibernate rather than deal with the winter. Trees drop their leaves in self defence. Some parts of nature are falling into sleepy time, other parts are gearing up for a long fight to survive. There’s no one right way to experience this, and no single narrative about how it all works.

In this as in all things, I think you have to start with nature as it manifests in your own body. If you try to work with a wheel of the year narrative that doesn’t reflect how you feel and experience things, you’re always going to feel out of kilter with the seasons. You also run the risk of turning ‘nature’ into some abstract story, something to think about in rituals rather than something to live. How we live day to day defines how we experience everything. It is your body, in your landscape, at the moment you find yourself in that underpins everything else.


Nature pushes through

The natural world offers us many examples of incredible action against the odds. From the tiniest plants breaking their way through pavements, to the epic challenges of migration, to life clinging on at the edges in the least likely places. Nature pushes through. It is tenacious, it does not give up, it takes on the most outrageous challenges.

If we read the book of nature as our guiding text, there are lots of examples of how struggling to overcome is part of the natural order. We can also see lots of examples of effort; the busy bees, the diligent ants and so forth. None of these things are properly models for us.

When we turn to nature for guidance and inspiration, it is important to remember that everything we see has evolved to do what it does. It’s evolved over a very long time to have the kind of existence and form that allows it to do what it does. The trek of the penguins inland in the Antarctic is a peculiarly penguin activity. Mammals who migrate do so to survive. Most mammals have not evolved to live in a state of perpetual crisis where having to make colossal efforts to survive is an everyday thing.

We are not tiny seedlings pushing the tarmac open. We are not grazing herds obliged to cross crocodile infested rivers to find food. We are not salmon swimming upstream to find the place we were spawned. We might take ideas and inspiration from anything of this nature, but it is really important to remember that we are not part of these stories. We can do amazing things in the short term, we adapt and survive startlingly well with these soft bodies of ours. Even if you profoundly identify with another living being though, your body is still your body and has not evolved to do the things that creature does – or the semblance of it.

When we look to nature, it is vital to remember that nature also exists in us. We have evolved to be what we are and to deal with certain kinds of challenges. Most of those challenges are not the ones we meet in modern life. We’re supposed to be running away from predators, not stressing ourselves sick while sitting at desks. Looking to nature will not teach us how to deal with the unnatural environments we insist on creating for ourselves.


Druidry with a body

In theory, if I honour nature then I should honour nature as it manifests in my own body. In practice, I’ve spent much of my life being unable to do this. I grew up affected by all kinds of social pressures to see my body as something I had to control, punish, discipline and feel ashamed of. Much of this revolved around the pressure to be thinner. Dieting and exercise were forms of self-punishment. Mostly what I was punishing myself for was having a body in the first place, taking up space and carbon, and not being good enough.

It’s taken me a long time to learn to have a kinder relationship with my own body. What I’ve learned through the Druidry has certainly helped me do this. The more I think about mammals and trees, landscapes and the elements, the harder it is for me to ignore the double standard around human bodies. Seals are allowed to have blubber, trees are allowed to be twisty, landscapes are allowed not to be smooth… and as I’ve learned to see myself in relation to the rest of the world, I’ve learned not to hate my body for being a body, and not to punish it for existing. So what if I’m not as thin, smooth, delicate or pretty as other people have wanted me to be? So what if I don’t want to dress or move in overtly sexualised ways? My body, my choice.

A few years ago I put down the notion of dieting. I eat what I want. I eat with the intention of keeping my body healthy and making sure I have the energy to do all the things I want to do. If I’m feeling fragile, I eat more carbs, because protecting my mental health is important. I’ve lived this way for a few years and I have not piled on the pounds – rather the opposite. I think it’s because I’m making sure I have the energy to do stuff. Starving myself has, in the past, left me with no energy to be active, and one way or another, this just encourages my body to store fat.

When it comes to exercise, I have in recent years also put down the notion of exercise as self punishment. I only do what I enjoy. I do the things that promote good mental health – walking, swimming and dancing are all good for my head. I’m still using the trampoline regularly as that also helps with my cranky lymphs. I do other things when I feel like it, and not as a form of flagellation. It’s worth noting that as I’m not trying hard to be fit or thin, just happy, I am actually a lot fitter than I used to be.

I rest more. I rest when I need to. I sleep more. I don’t push, I don’t tough it out, I don’t keep going. I stop at need. It is definitely better this way.

I live in my body and with my body. In recent years I’ve tended not to think of it as something separate from ‘me’. It is not something I have to control and punish. I realise how much of the controlling urge comes from a culture that sees animal as lesser than human, and anything animal manifesting in the human as shameful. My wanderings in druidry have taught me to question this, to celebrate the mammal nature of my body, and to be a good deal more comfortable in my own skin.


The fantasy beach body

When ‘beach body’ gets mentioned, you can normally expect body shaming and very narrow definitions of beauty to follow. Ageism is likely as well. Rather than doing any of that, I want to subvert the idea of the beach body by inviting people to imagine their ideal beach form in much wilder terms. This isn’t a totally original thought – I saw something go by on social media a few weeks ago.

I posted this notion to facebook yesterday and the responses were glorious – lots of takers for going to the beach as a dog, or with a mermaid tail. Quite a few people wanting gills and sun proofing. I also really liked the suggestions of going as a bird – for ease of getting there as well as being well suited to paddling if you go for a wader.

I’m not sure about gills for myself – in part because I fancy the idea of a long trunk, and being able to stand under the water and raise my trunk like a periscope, and just be there. Apparently I want to be some kind of costal elephant, with a hide tough enough to deal with both sun and sand.

I think properly foolish daydreaming is a good and necessary thing. I’m very much in favour of letting the mind wander around sweet and whimsical notions, and playing with possibilities. There’s a way of gently stretching my creative muscles, and playing and making room for ideas to come in. I am unlikely to achieve any dramatic revelations by imagining my ideal beach identity, but there is charm in it. If you want to speculate wildly in the comments, please do!


Beauty and the beholder

Beauty in nature takes so many forms. An old, gnarled tree is beautiful. A barren landscape (if natural) can have its own stark beauty. Meandering rivers are beautiful. Woods and fields, hills, mountains, marshes, dunes – all have their own beauty. Insects, mammals, fish and birds are beautiful. Toadstools are beautiful. We all have our favourites, but no one will troll you on twitter for the size of the hare’s thighs, or the stomach shape of a manatee. Even the least tree-friendly people don’t try to make claims about the trees being ugly.

People are a whole other thing. We look at each other harshly. This is absolutely a white northern hemisphere thing. I expect Australia and New Zealand work the same way. We denigrate people who don’t conform to narrow white standards of beauty. There’s plenty of scope for racism in the mix here. Ageism is absolutely part of it – not looking like an adult is a key part of what we treat as beautiful in women. That’s rather creepy. Men are allowed some signs of maturity, but must maintain youthful standards in teeth and muscles at the very least.

Not only do we judge each other, but we shame each other for not looking like photoshopped magazine articles. I grew up feeling completely unlovable because I was not considered an attractive child. It’s something I carry with me still, and probably always will to some degree. It is a difficult thing to go into the world with a body and face that you do not think other people will be able to put up with. Or that you fear they will reject. I’m aware that I’m passably symmetrical, I have all the usual facial features and body parts in reasonable working order and conventional configuration. I’m aware that my reasons for anxiety are entirely about how I’ve been treated, and that there must be many people who are less conforming than me and have greater reasons for anxiety about how their faces will be judged.

On the flip side, I’ve also had the experience of being told that I am devastatingly sexually attractive. So attractive, that I could hardly expect a man to control his behaviour around me. So attractive that my body could cause him to do things he had no control over. I was told I could hardly blame him for that. While generally feeling unattractive has been a lifelong discomfort, the idea of being so attractive that no one can be held responsible for what they do to me, is terrifying. Even though I know it’s a disgusting, responsibility avoiding lie. These days, I’m married to someone who can express attraction without any need to harm me at all, and it puts the past into perspective. The damage remains.

When it comes to how I see other people, I’m much more interested in the beauty a person creates, than the accident of their appearance. Most of how we look, we have limited control over. I like how kindness looks on a person. I like laughter and warmth, compassion and friendship acting on a body. I like how a person’s eyes look when they love whatever they’re looking at. Bodies expressing themselves joyfully are beautiful. People sharing their creativity, enjoying their clothing, or their own skin, are beautiful. The only qualities I find ugly in a person are meanness and cruelty and things of that ilk.


Tidiness, nature, and civilization

The human urge to tidy things up has us cutting hedges into smooth edges, trimming verges so as to take out all the wildflowers and generally destroying habitats. What is this urge to be tidy and how do we get rid of it so that we stop needlessly killing wildlife?

Neatness, order, straight lines, square corners – these are not things we generally find in nature but that humans create and impose. You will likely decide at a glance whether a place is natural or human-made, and the straight lines, tidy edges and whether there are obviously dead things will inform that decision. We like to tidy away the dead things, even trees when they fall down in woods. A dead tree is an amazing source of life and habitat for many other species. We do massive damage when we remove them. But, decay, and death are considered unsightly, so aren’t civilized or tidy.

When we force a straight line, or cut back a verge, we’re asserting a human presence into the landscape. Bringing order to the chaos of nature is a project that goes with owning the land, controlling what’s around us and valuing some things more than others. We use ‘straight’ as a word both to indicate honesty, and heterosexuality and I don’t think this is a coincidence. We call things wild in a human context often to judge them. Tidiness is something we treat as a virtue and seek to install in our children.

We’ve had hundreds of years, if not longer, of telling ourselves that being tidy is an expression of being civilized. The uncut lawn doesn’t say ‘home for insects’ to us. It says ‘lazy and uncivilised and a mess’. And so we cut things back that aren’t causing us any real problems. We strim and trim, and take away the dead heads.

Unfortunately, as human influence dominates and wildness becomes ever more threatened, our urge to tidy is simply an urge to destroy. It’s not the tiny, puny humans versus the wilderness any more. We tame and train our landscapes and in the process, we kill so much that should be in them. What we make when we do this is often ugly, sterile and joyless. The cityscapes that we make as ultimate expressions of tidy civilization lack soul, and are not good habitats for humans. We need softness too. We need living green growth, and at least some element of unpredictability.

We need to stop complaining about things that look untidy, and start celebrating the beauty of nature. Nature isn’t tidy. But when you think about the mathematical elegance of the Fibonacci sequence, it’s also clear that nature has a good deal more to offer than the banality of our straight lines and tightly clipped lawns.


Naming Nature

Naming the world around us can have some very unhelpful effects on humans. It can reinforce a feeling that we’re superior and in control and that nature is something we own. It can be a manifestation of power-over, and affirms the idea that we know what’s going on and what everything is and does. In practice, much of nature remains a mystery to us, and while we can subjugate and destroy great swathes of it, this is a form of power that can only destroy us as well in time.

The other side of this is that we don’t tend to pay as much attention to things we can’t name. There’s a lot of experiential difference between seeing trees, and seeing individual trees of named species. When we use names as a way of sorting and storing information, it can be the basis of forming a more complex relationship with the world around us.

It can be easy to lose sight of the way that human naming systems are just that, and not some kind of ultimate truth. Even when we decide to give creatures complex Latin names that claim to say something about the family tree of their species, we can be very wrong. Nature does not exist to be put in tidy categories by humans, and over time we’ve become more aware that superficial similarities don’t always mean things are closely related. Having divided the world into plant and animal kingdoms (now, there’s a word whose implications stand considering!) we’re still at a bit of a loss to know what to make of fungi.

The names we give things are not a truth in their own right, they’re just part of a story we’re trying to tell ourselves in order to make sense of what we encounter.


Druid seeks bat

For the coming weeks, I’m in the blessed and exciting position of doing some bat surveys at night. A charity that acts to protect wildlife in my area is surveying ahead of work on one of the local cycle paths, and my household have stepped up to do some night surveying. We’re looking for mammals, listening for owls, and we have bat detectors to take out.

This is going to be what we do on Saturday nights for some weeks now. There are two kinds of bat – pipistrelles and noctules, who appear at sunset – which at the moment is a bit before 9pm. Other bats won’t show up until it’s actually dark – after half past nine, and getting later all the time. For me, this means a relatively late night.

Our first survey was a great success – we identified lots of pipistrelles and noctules. You can identify a lot of bat species from the frequency at which they emit sound. Pipistrelles it turns out are much more variable in the sound emissions, but as we also saw them in the twilight, we can be confident about identifying them. We also saw a roe deer with a very small fawn, which was exciting.

This is very much what I want from my Druidry at the moment. Direct encounters with the wild world. Deepening my relationship with my locality. Doing something that helps protect what is wild in my locality. Sharing all of this with lovely people. Coming back from the surveying with good stories to tell.


Feeling and listening to the spring

Yesterday’s post was very much about the visual side of the season, so, for balance, some more thoughts about experiencing the season with your body.

It is of course the point in the year when windows can more reliably be open. So long as you don’t fill your home with artificial noise, you can let the sounds of spring in. The birds are singing a lot more now than they were a few weeks ago – lots of territorial cries, alarm calls to protect nests, and communication between mates. Blackbirds singing the sun down is one of the great things about summer, for me, and they’re getting into that now.

With the windows open after dark, I can often hear owls. Sometimes I hear foxes and badgers at night. There’s a lot to be gained by listening to the spring from inside your own home. If you can get out, then the sound of wind in leaves is now a possibility while the undergrowth is lively with birds and rodents. There’s the hum of insects, and the prospect of that increasing in coming months.

I experience a distinct shift when I can go outside in the daytime without a coat, and a second such shift when I can be out at night without one. Not needing gloves changes how I experience the world around me. Able to shift from my heavy walking boots to lighter summer shoes means I feel more of the ground. Lighter clothing allows sun and breezes access to my skin. On drier days I can sit on the ground for short periods, and feel the earth with my body and the plants touching me.

With more growing, there’s more to sniff, and more to eat. I like nibbling from hedgerows – it’s something I’ve written about before, along with the sniffing. It creates a powerful and immediate connection with a place. It is important to know what you can safely put in your mouth.

If we just look at nature, we place ourselves on the outside, as observers viewing the scenery. To be participants, we need to bring our whole bodies into play and use all the senses at our disposal. Looking at nature isn’t the only way of connecting with it, and not being able to look at it need not be a barrier to connection.