An early start to a long journey home finds me stopping in a lay-by overlooking the Teme Valley in Worcestershire near Stanford Bridge. The sun is warm, the sky blue and a thin mist fills the valley below me. I almost didn't stop he as a large hgv was also parked here, but I wasn't sure where else to stop. I could just make out the sound of a radio coming from the cab. As I heat up some water on my gas stove for a cup of coffee I hear a bird singing in a tree next me. My instant thought was that this was something different. It wasn't a blackbird or a robin and it was too late in the year for something like a blackcap. Unfortunately the bird was silhouetted between me and the sun and judging by what I could just make out amongst the branches above me I was sure it was a song thrush. I read recently that these birds are in decline in the countryside but here, I felt sure, was one making the most of the bright and warm late autumn morning.
Sunday, 30 November 2014
After a day of walking around Hopton Titterhill and then around the parkland and woods at Croft Castle it was time to slow down a little and do one of my favourite meditative walks. I had sat for a quite a while on the edge of the promontory of Croft Ambrey overlooking the Vale of Wigmore. The air was misty and I could not see much beyond the nearest fields below me, certainly not to the middle distant hills and beyond into Wales. It was pleasantly mild and dry. Walking down off the hill, through the woods and then the parkland was a perfect way to end the day and to slow down and forget the world around me. I found a slow pace that showed no need for hurry or care about what I should do next. Just one slow step at a time. Looking. Observing. Listening, smelling. Sensing. With the distant view obscured by the mist I have to look close around me. To the trees, the fungi, the ferns, the colours, the brambles. As I have mentioned in other posts I just love looking closely at the natural world. Not always understanding it from a scientific point of view, but admiring it for its colours, shapes, forms, patterns etc.
High up on one of the conifers a crow caws. A deep loud crackly caw that echoes through the mist and the trees. I can barely see it, high up on an uppermost branch, a back shape amongst the blackness of the trees. It seems small and yet it's call is so loud, piercing the diminishing evening light and the misty space over the acres of newly felled trees. In the surrounding trees of the woodland edges that are still standing I can here the evening chattering of blackbirds, the occasional wren and the inevitable high picked cheeps of what are probably gold crests or tits. I think there should be a new word for these unseen small birds that inhabit woodland like this. I never quite know what they are but they are just small cheepy things.
I always enjoy this walk because it speaks to me of returning to civilisation after a venture into the wilderness. A sense of homecoming after a time away. A sense of saying goodbye to nature and saying hello to my normal world again. I never tire of this place and hope that I will be back many times in the future. It isn't MY land as such as I claim no ownership to it whatsoever, but it is a special place to me psychologically and spiritually. With thanks to the National Trust I am able to enjoy this place with freedom and find a sense of ownership and attachment to it though the inspiration I find here.
I have been to the top of this hill in Shropshire many times but haven't really walked around its lower edge. On the northern side lies an old quarry and yesterday I sat there a while to do a quick sketch. Some long-tailed tits passed by and one of them flitted around some of the seed heads of wood sage which had grown abundantly on the waste rocks. These are one of my favourite birds and they are always a pleasure to watch and listen out for as they flock together and move around the landscape chirping.
I find myself back on Hopton Titterhill in Shropshire on a late November night. It feels uncharacteristicly warm with a soft gentle breeze and there is no need for a coat. It is dry, but misty and overcast. I have been up here on moonlit nights and seen the landscape for miles around me but tonight it feels quite different. There is a heavy silence amongst the trees apart from a slight murmur of the conifers. I have to make a phone call and I almost feel ashamed to be speaking out loud. I am so conscious of every sound I make and so speak in a soft voice almost as if I don't want anyone to hear me and yet there are no people around to listen in. I go on a short walk and almost feel deafened by my munching on a chocolate digestive biscuit. It becomes all I can hear and I horridly finish my snack so that I can be aware of the subtleties of my surroundings. I venture along a track and out into a field. I had been planning to go for a longish night walk all week but, now I am here, the darkness forms an almost impenetrable blanket and I somehow don't feel confident to safely walk very far - and I haven't got a torch. Why? Well it feels wrong to use one when there is natural light at night; it pushes the night-time experience into the shadows and also immediately announces where I am to anyone for miles around.
I stand in the field and look around me. All the trees and hedgerow vegetation are just a solid, indefinable matt black. The sky, track and field are just a subtle shade lighter. It is almost impossible to make out and define any objects right in front of me and I have to feel my way over a gate and fence. We always seem to want to push darkness out of our lives and, when it is present, fill it with uncertainty, story, fantasy and fear. My mind is full of past images from films and tv and I have to try and reassign these thoughts to the back of my mind and readjust to being in a landscape that is exactly the same as it is during the light of day but just has the absence of light. We take night and day for granted but here I just want to experience and appreciate the difference that, out here, isn't defined by man-made time-keeping and calendars but is a natural phenomena that our planet experiences.
Owls hoot and screech in the woods. I always seem to hear them here. An occasional aeroplane rumbles far above me but otherwise it does feel awfully quiet.
Sunday, 16 November 2014
This picture was inspired by a large pile of muck piled high on the edge of a harvested maize field near Wrest Park. I caught a brief glimpse of a pied wagtail moving around the heap and alighting briefly on one of the cut maize stems with the muck heap behind. I took a few photos and worked this sketch up quickly at home. The photos on the iPad didn't produce realistic colours so this turned into a slightly abstract piece.
It isn't often I come across very old oak trees in this part of the country, but today I visited one near Wrest Park. With a trunk diameter of around 5ft this was once a very large tree but at some time in the past it had lost its uppermost branches above about 12ft leaving only a single main leaf bearing trunk continuing upwards of about 1 ft diameter and 25ft or so above that. What struck me was the the old craggy bark on the shaded side of the tree. It's age was very apparent by the deep ruts and distortions of the bark. I spent some time looking closely at this world of mosses, lichens and spiders and wished I had a magnifying glass. Various areas of the bark had evolved into different ecosystems possibly determined by light, shade, moisture, orientation, level of decay etc and this was marked by differences in the colours of the greens of the surface plant life. Where moses were covering the wood there was a dominant dark green. For lichens it was more of a pale whitish green and in areas of algae a more bright fluorescent like green. A rich brown dust covered some areas possibly due to the actions of woodpeckers delving into the rotten areas to find food. This is an incredible landscape that I am touching and exploring and which I am sure most people over the years have just walked by without giving it a second glance. I am reminded how in the past day or so man has managed to land a spacecraft on a comet orbiting Jupiter - on a surface that probably looks not too dissimilar in places. It is also amazing to realise that, from one perspective, these two very different places 300 million miles apart are connected through being a part of the universe. They were ultimately birthed in the same place, made of similar materials and are part of the natural world.
The wood here is incredibly still today. It is an overcast day, not cold, but no breeze at all. Even the last few very uppermost leaves are not perceptively moving. Tits, crows and the background rumble from a busy main road are the only sounds. How different a wood like this would be in the wind. There are, I think, several other trees like this in the woods and I expect at one time they stood in open parkland as the surrounding woodland (coppice?) grew up around them.
Thursday, 13 November 2014
Reflections on Jesus feeding the 4000 (Mark 8: 1-10)
The performing of a miracle in this passage is well known but it wasn't this as such that caught my attention when looking at it recently. To me, this was a parable about the earth having sufficient resources to supply our needs if they are well managed and administered. The desire to be fed is a basic human need and here we have a large crowd who, having followed Jesus for several days, were no doubt hungry - hungry on several levels: spiritually, physically and certainly hungry out of curiosity. For me, this was an opportunity for Jesus to be a spiritual symbol of the earth that sustains all life. Here, He is able to produce and provide food for those around Him. The loaves and the fish become a sacred embodiment of the body of Jesus that is shared amongst others. This is a Communion service. The food becomes a symbol of life, faith and of the provision of sustenance. It is a sign of the miraculous wonder of the ability of the earth around us to feed its people. All people are fed by the disciples and there is more that is leftover. This provision of food is well managed. It is amazing that a little can be so very productive and satisfying. This mirrors many ecological or garden habitats and permaculture ideas where the productivity of small area of land can be very high if well managed. This is a lesson against global exploitation and resource depletion.
A concurrent thought flowing along side this for me was about a 'Jesus Supermarket' mentality. Jesus is often seen as The leader, The answer to all problems, The answer to the provision of all our needs. Just like a big shopping trip to a local supermarket where we can buy all that we need to sustain us in our consumerist lifestyle, so we can see Jesus as performing a similar function. This can be good as long as we keep a healthy perspective. Sometimes it can be good to step away from an expectation of getting all we need, to put away the shopping list of requests and take a different look at what it is we really want or need.
Saturday, 8 November 2014
Sunday, 2 November 2014
Drew this from memory after a bike ride this morning. Cycled out to just beyond Warden Hill, north of Luton, and sat on a hill top looking back over the landscape reaching gently away below me. It was a showery and very blustery day but not too cold and I was able to lie on the grass in my well done up coat looking over the fields and feel fairly cosy. I had thought of doing a sketch whilst there but somehow I just wanted to sit and enjoy just being out in the wind and enjoy the space around me without having to feel obliged to create something.