I woke this morning to the cooing of doves and the sound of tuis warbling their bell-like song. There must be a storm somewhere out in the ocean, because the foaming white waves are pounding on the rocks with a dull roar, and all is well in this tiny corner of the world.
One night in the big smoke, light nights, no darkness, no stars, no silence, the sound of traffic and bustle filling every crevice of the day is enough to send me helter-skelter back here. To peace, birds, and the silence that is never silence, but which is filled with the sounds of the earth – the wind in the trees, the buzzing of bees, the clicking of cicadas, birds chirping, and the contented murmurs of the neighbour’s chickens who have escaped to the grassy cemetery across the road.
For the whole of my first year at secondary school, my class had to keep what was called a nature diary. No matter what experiments we had done in science classes with Bunsen burners, tripods and test tubes, we still had to write up our nature diaries every week for homework.
The girls who lived on farms and in the country had it made. They prattled away about lambing and crops and used to get top marks every week of the year for their diaries.
I used to catch a bus home from the little town through five miles of country and then walk up the road to home, where my parents were indifferent gardeners and too busy with their challenges and life in a smart cavalry regiment to have time for discussing the wonders of nature with their eldest child.
So I used to dread Tuesday evenings, the night before we handed in our diaries for marking. My ingenuity was stretched to its limits. I discussed the lichen on the trees, and how it changed colour in the rain. I snatched up unusual cloud formations, sunsets and rainbows, worked over old ground like spring and catkins, seized on the odd bird’s egg or fallen nest, poked open pods in the hope of a nature story and searched the hedgerows for different flowers, insects and chrysalises.
It was of course, marvellous training for a noticing eye, and to my surprise I quite missed it when I stopped doing our diaries the following year…no more stamens to marvel over, no more shiny conkers to draw or patterns of snail and butterfly.
That training though, has never really faded away, and a life-time later I still savour the same marvels of seasons and growing things. What they mean to the spirit has only slowly seeped into my consciousness.
The first time I had an inkling of it was when I read the story of Odette Churchill, the Resistance heroine. Though I read her story at the age of twelve, I have never forgotten the moment when the guard opened the door of her underground prison cell to stick her daily meal inside the door. As he did so the skeleton of a leaf blew in.
Odette seized it and hid it till the guard had gone. Then she gazed at it, savoured it, penetrated its existence, the miracle of the lacework of the veins and the glory of its being. It existed outside the world of horror, torture and degradation which had laid hold upon her. She said it was a turning point in her struggle to retain sanity, self respect and a belief in the real world of love, truth and beauty.
Years ago I visited a man who was in the prison wing of a mental home. From childhood he had been marked down by misfortune, and most of his life had been spent behind bars. He had no education, no training, and no hope of ever building a life outside prison walls. He had long ago stopped believing in love as an abandoned child, and we found no way of reaching his bruised hurt self beyond the wall of toughness, bravado and real mental disturbance.
The conditions in which he and the other prisoners lived were unspeakable. Even a sane man would have gone mad in that setting, and one with no stability would find it hard to resist despair (mercifully this institution has since been closed down).
But this tough, violent man told us that his one hobby and relaxation was to keep a biscuit back from his tea and crumble it up outside the bars of his window. Through the bars he watched the birds snatch up the crumbs. He said there was one little sparrow that had got to know him, and was tame enough to come near the window. A man who was unable to love any person, even himself, could not help loving a sparrow.
It’s now common knowledge that people who keep pets and love them are healthier than those who don’t. Lonely people who love a pet have lower blood pressure, and the giving and taking of love from their pet keeps them happy and relaxed and gives them a purpose for living.
Other find their deepest satisfaction and greatest relaxation in their garden, planting flowers, trees, vegetables, savouring the feel of earth, and unconsciously finding serenity by their contact with flowers and all growing things.
It almost seems as though man can remain human only if he does retain contact with the natural world, the world of tiny creatures, flowers, trees, earth, sky, sunsets and moons.
Yet though we need them for our very existence, we tend both to take them for granted, to neglect them, even to destroy them. We have had warnings of an environmental crisis since the eighties. Perhaps now more than ever, we need to remember more often that: ‘the earth brought forth grass, the herb yielding seed and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind’ before the earth was filled with every form of life except man, and that we came last.
Even now, as I look out of the window at a plump blackbird drinking from the bird bath in the shade of the plum tree, I know that I need him for my sanity and sense of well-being. I need the plum tree too, for shade, its fruit, the scent of its blossom and the bliss of its very existence. But both could live without me.
So when we feel the joy which the sight of a hedgehog in the city, or in the country gives us, or a tree with budding leaves in spring, we should remember that we actually need them, and we should cherish them for what they are – our lifeline not just to existence, but to serenity and well-being, to sanity, to joy.
Food for threadbare gourmets
I love recipes that make life easy, so this one for scones which didn’t entail any rubbing of fat into flour was meat and drink to me. Combine four cups of self raising flour with a good handful of chopped dates. Pour in one and a half cups of lemonade and one cup of cream and lightly and quickly mix everything together.
Gently form into a shape two inches thick, and cut into small squares. Bake at 180 degrees for fifteen to twenty minutes. Eat hot with lots of butter and good strawberry jam!
Food for thought
Our oceans are endangered too. Eight million tons of plastic end up in the oceans every year. This equals five plastic bags for every foot of coastline around the globe. And in the next decade the amount of plastic is expected to increase by tenfold unless we find a better way to dispose of it. The threat to our already endangered oceans is catastrophic.
And every plastic water bottle that ends up in the ocean? It’ll stay there for 450 years. So what are we all going to do to save our world from the plastic plague? These facts came from http://earthstonestation.com/2015/04/23/earth-day-project/
40 responses to “Our life-lines”
If I had lemonade on hand I would be making those scones right now. Instead, I am baking quinces, after which I will make a banana/feijoa cake (an experiment). Later in the week I am planning to use your crumble recipe (ever so popular in this household) to make a feijoa apple crumble. The crumble recipe is wonderful because I can make one crumble for ourselves and a couple of small ones to give to elderly friends.
Good food from the good earth is another lifeline to serenity and joy.
Do you think the blackbird could live without you? A lot of nature doesn’t need us but for some it would be a hard struggle to survive without us.
what a lovely comment Amanda… I envy you your quinces, one of my favourite fruits – glad you think the scones will be useful, and I love to think that you enjoy the crumble mix !!!
Yes, feeding others with good food is utterly satisfying….
I know what you mean… if the blackbird was in town I would feel he needed bit of help, but here in the country he continues on his own serene and self-sufficient way !
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I wish I could send you my blackbirds and some quinces. 🙂
Those scones sound wonderful and I shall bookmark the recipe!
The beauty of a leaf skeleton, the response of a sparrow , the importance of teaching a child to observe natural things – a lovely post.
We have just spent a week with our daughter, her partner and their daughter who was two last week. They live in the woods. The stars are brilliant in the night sky. When B heard a pheasant, she called out Pheasant! Later she heard a bird call we didn’t know, Green Woodpecker, she said. Yaffle, yaffle! We were delighted! 🙂
How lovely that already your grand daughter is in tune with Life.
.very special…hope the recipe comes in handy !
lovely to hear from you
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Such an interesting Blog. Took me back to the time I taught my two young children for two years when we lived in Spain and then Sardinia. We used to have lessons in the morning but in the afternoons it was nature study. We went to the beach and saw crabs and other sea creatures. We collected shells and came back and made pictures with them.
The scones with lemonade sounds good. I think my four year old grandson would enjoy helping make those!
Your children’s childhood sounds idyllic… you must all have such happy memories…
thank you Margot, good to hear from you, and so glad you enjoyed the blog..
.yes, scones made for grand children’s participation !
Thank you Valerie for reminding me of the miracle of nature. I can only imagine you at your desk, writing a journal in your nature diary. I often think diaries were the precursor to blogging. I can understand why you missed it the next year. I’ve been reading a little of Joseph Campbell of late, particularly on the heroes journey. I think that diaries are a way of going deep inside, recording our personal journey. Maybe that’s why it is so difficult to keep going, especially when the daily activities keeps us focused on the external. When I was reading your post, I recalled Aldo Leopold’s words: “No matter how intently one studies the hundred little dramas of the woods and meadows, one can never learn all the salient facts about any one of them.” Many hugs coming your way!
Rebecca thank you for one of your usual many layered comments crammed with thoughts that make me want to pick up the phone or skype and natter about everything you’ve said !!!
Yes, Joseph Campbell is one of my heroes, and i love his mapping of the heroes journey… that dignifies and makes sense of our own tortuous progress through life !
Loved the quote… so true, as I learn from my grandson who is doing micro-biology at uni, and baffles me with detail and insights…
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When I was given a copy of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Woman by Edith Holden many years ago, I enjoyed reading her entries and savoring her lovely drawings. Communing with nature on an intimate level or caring for a pet that brings joy to the spirit are two powerful lifelines, Valerie. You had a wise teacher. While in India last spring I happened upon areas that have banned the use of plastic bags. Bravo. Plastic bottles is another issue. Demand for safe drinking water has created an international environmental crisis. We go to the beach ( an island) by boat and the trash and plastic litter I pick up is disheartening.
The sad thing about that is that much of our tap water here in the west is perfectly drinkable and yet Big Business has made it anethema. I hate the plastic bottles.. Where do they all go. Good for you picking up all that waste on the beaches.. Thank you.. c
Oh I still have my copy of that gorgeous book – delicious isn’t it !
How wonderful that places like India are waking up to the menace of plastic… when is the west going to take action too, I wonder…
yes, we should all do what you do and pick up rubbish..
.I even do it on the pavements in our town, and hope people notice and think of doing it too !!!!!
My grandmother always said that people with dogs live longer. A walk with a dog once a day keeps ones head up. What a lovely idea to keep a nature journal for a year, an inspired teacher to insist that you all keep this going.. noticing those little changes enhance our thinking and writing.. wonderful.. love love.. your friend.. c
Celi darling, you live it all for us, and keep our thoughts and feelings grounded when you share your thoughts and experiences on the Farmy… like your lovely one today on touching…
Your creatures are so blessed to be cherished by some one who cares abut them
I’m thankful that you were required to do the diary “back in the day” so that we, as well as you, could reap the benefits today. I found the timing of the story about Churchill interesting as just a day or two ago, I heard the story of an American held brutally captive in Vietnam for seven years or so. He managed to move a grate and stare at one green blade, which helped him keep his sanity.
My morning walks, surrounded by nature which is surrounded by that city, are one of the things that keep me grounded and happy. As for plastic bottles, I rarely buy anything that comes in one and as Cecilia said, enjoy delicious tap water. I have glass bottles for the water I carry in the van and elsewhere. Every little bit helps.
Have a blessed weekend.
Thank you Janet for such a generous comment…
How interesting about the American in Vietnam… the earth sustains us when we reach out to it…
Enjoy your Life-saving walks and your fresh water – untainted by parabens !!
The plastic debacle is so horrifying. I have stopped using and by plastic… the problem is so huge, but if everyone would stop using plastic, even grocery and retail stores, what a lovely difference we would all start to make.
If only, Linda… the trouble is that the majority of people are not bloggers and don’t get our messages !!!!
I am strongly of the opinion that we actively need the closer contact with Nature, and that indeed the most dedicated – and thus derided – tree-hugger is probably a good deal saner than any sceptically-scoffing city slicker.
I think you may have a point!
i have to admit that I encouraged my grandson to hug trees, and the other one took his musical box I gave him, up to a hill where we knew there would be baby rabbits playing, and solemnly walked around playing the tune to the hidden babies !
What a lovely idea! I like to think those bunnies grew up enriched by the experience.
So rarely do we take time to notice the many miracles all around us. That’s where life is and we miss it by ignoring it. This post is a wonderful reminder to stop, look, listen, touch, feel, and be still long enough to notice life as it is happening all around us. Thank you! ❤
Lorna, thank you for your thoughtful comments … yes, you’re right – ,unless we notice, life slips away un-appreciated….
First the scones, how lovely and simple. If I had dates these would be my breakfast. Instead I copied and I will make them soon, I always have lemonade.
I loved this story, loved your growing awareness and the transition to reminding us all of the necessity of the natural world around us. Having a black thumb doesn’t prevent me from wandering my local Nursery and choosing new and wonderful things for my yard guy Joel to plant for me. This year it will be more Lavender, which is one of my favorite things for both its beauty and scent
Dear Val, good to hear from you…It always gives me a Kick to know you’ve enjoyed a story. I had no idea you had a black thumb !
but love the idea of your lavender.. one of my favourites… and I have worn lavender water all my life..
I love to know that a recipe has hit the spot !!!
Our winter was cold and long, Valerie, and the buds of Spring are only now making their presence known. Finally, the forsythia in Central Park unfurled their golden blossoms! Mother Nature is still precariously teetering between Winter and Spring…I think Spring may be gaining ground! 😉 xoxoM
Forsythia is one of natures gifts to cities I always think…
I hope your long hard winter is almost over… though as we say in England: ‘ ne’er cast a clout till May is out !!! XXX
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A wonderful year-long lesson from your first grade teacher. It truly was “marvellous training for a noticing eye.” Children who notice and appreciate their environment are more likely to take care of it.
Thank you for your comment… you’re right, but interestingly it was only years later that I appreciated the value of our grumpy science teacher’s training !!!
And I’ve often wished since there was some way to make it compulsory in schools as it was for us – I’m sure it would make a difference, as you say !
Beautifully written and evocative. I could just imagine Odette cherishing that skeleton of a leaf. I sometimes pick up leaves, stones, feathers and other treasures on my walks. I love your observation about where you live not being filled with the noise of the city, but noises of the earth and nature–much more soothing than the noises of ‘civilisation’.
What a generous thoughtful comment.. thank you so much..
I know what you mean about picking up little treasures… I’m always doing the same.. conkers most recently… though i don’t suppose you have horse chestnuts in the heart of Australia !!!
A door opened and the wind blew Valerie Davies in.
More stories about your life, please!
Thank you Claire…
it’s great to know that those stories aren’t too boring !!!!
Are you kidding! More, more!
Ah the sparrow breaks my heart. Some of these institutions makes you despair for humanity.
I know… the awful thing is we do it to animals too, who haven’t even robbed a bank. they were just unlucky….!
Agreed. I don’t understand how there can be people that aren’t bothered by it.
Enjoyed your reflections, Valerie. The sights, sounds and smells of Nature are, indeed, things we can’t do without. They’re so vital to our very existence. Thank you for sharing and helping us to remember that. 🙂
Thank you Pat, so good to know you enjoyed it…we are all on the same journey, and find nourishment in the many of the same things… and they turn out to be free, and always there !