Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Getting Out Doors Can Save Us All

The ears were visible but the face was partly hidden by the swaying barley. I stopped, hardly daring to breath, but too late; the deer was leaping to its feet and bounding through the tall stalks. Reaching the edge of the field, it paused to glance back at me before running into the woods. Those precious seconds, as we two different living beings looked intently at each will stay with me forever. This brief encounter with a wild animal coloured the rest of my day. I went home and through the following hours with a sense of joy and peace inside.

Is this the reason people, young and old, congregate at the edge of ponds, or in city squares to feed the birds? Why we walk through forests and over hills? Catching even a brief glimpse of a rabbit, squirrel or a bird of prey takes us out of ourselves. It is a special moment when we meet other living beings. We are innately drawn to the natural world but modern life cuts us off from nature and regular contact with wild creatures. The popularity of nature programmes on TV such as The Living Planet would seem to indicate that we seek contact with the natural world in any way possible. What happens to those feelings when we walk out of the woods or through the park gates or when the programme ends? Over the past forty years, nearly half the world’s wildlife population has disappeared. As individuals, we may have never harmed a wild animal yet we allow this destruction to continue.

Ours is a society based on a growth-oriented and materialistic approach to living where everything is measured in terms of size and quantity. Money and possessions have become our chief concern and value is defined only in monetary terms. To meet our insatiable wants and desires, many creatures are cruelly mistreated and exploited and pushed to the point of extinction and their habitats destroyed.

We are wiping whole species from the face of the planet and causing indescribable pain and suffering to others for short-term gain. As a result, we are now facing a series of environmental crises. Seeing ourselves as superior to other creatures and capable of dominating nature has been a fatal error. Failure to identify with the living Earth has made us apathetic with regard to the suffering of other species and unable to see that when we damage our ecosystems we endanger ourselves. Our arrogance and ignorance are taking us to the edge of catastrophe. We seem to have forgotten a basic fact of life; all things are interconnected and interdependent.

Cosmetic & Shampoo Testing
Battery Hens

Fox Hunting Despite Ban
Plastics in the Sea

We should be outraged at what is happening to wildlife but the modern world has turned us into passive consumers who follow trends and fashions without giving a thought to the consequences of our actions. 

How many of us ever stop to consider how our behaviour and life-style may be affecting the natural world? We each have a right to a decent standard of living but surely with rights come responsibilities to others, human and non-human. We have a more positive, nobler side to our natures and we have the imagination and abilities to adopt a new attitude to life. We have a choice as individuals to live and act differently. 

Politics is not only the domain of paid politicians; it is the concern of us all. We are individual people but we do not live in isolation from each other or the world. We are each part of the web of life and have a moral responsibility to ensure that it remains intact. Government has a role in protecting wildlife and the natural world, but each of us can question our own attitudes and behaviour and how they impact on others. All change begins with the individual. We can each strive to live by different values where compassion and understanding of the interconnectedness and interdependency of the natural world determines how we live our lives.

When we glimpse a hare or listen to an owl, when we feed the birds or watch a ladybird creeping along a fence, we are connecting with the wider universe and the other beings who share the planet with us.

In such moments, empathy, respect and compassion for non-human others are alive within us and here lies the catalyst for change. Wildlife in all its forms comprises sentient beings who are not a resource to be exploited and dominated but have intrinsic value in themselves. At such moments, we see the dignity of all life in its many different forms. Our sense of wonder and mystery are reignited. It is only through contact with wildlife, with this ‘otherness’ that we feel at one with life and not separate from the natural world.

We spend our lives working and consuming, searching for wealth and riches but as John Ruskin said “there is no wealth but life” And it was that sense of life and wonder that held me spellbound as the deer and I held each other’s gaze. It is in search of these other riches that we go to park and field, pond and sea. This is the treasure that each of us, in our own way, should take into account in our daily lives and do what we can to protect.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Trees Against The Sky

On National Poetry Day, a poem about trees and nature

Trees Against The Sky

Edge of Wood in Cumbria

Pines against the sky,
Pluming the purple hill;
Pines . . . and I wonder why,
Heart, you quicken and thrill?
Wistful heart of a boy,
Fill with a strange sweet joy,
Lifting to Heaven nigh -
Pines against the sky.

Palms against the sky,
Failing the hot, hard blue;
Stark on the beach I lie,
Dreaming horizons new;
Heart of my youth elate,
Scorning a humdrum fate,
Keyed to adventure high -
Palms against the sky.

Oaks against the sky,
Ramparts of leaves high-hurled,
Staunch to stand and defy
All the winds of the world;
Stalwart and proud and free,
Firing the man in me
To try and again to try -
Oaks against the sky.

Olives against the sky
Of evening, limpidly bright;
Tranquil and soft and shy,
Dreaming in amber light;
Breathing the peace of life,
Ease after toil and strife . . .
Hark to their silver sigh!
Olives against the sky.

Cypresses glooming the sky,
Stark at the end of the road;
Failing and faint am I,
Lief to be eased of my load;
There where the stones peer white
in the last of the silvery light,
Quiet and cold I'll lie -
Cypresses etching the sky.

Trees, trees against the sky -
O I have loved them well!
There are pleasures you cannot buy,
Treasurers you cannot sell,
And not the smallest of these
Is the gift and glory of trees. . . .
So I gaze and I know now why
It is good to live - and to die. . . .
Trees and the Infinite Sky.

 Robert William Service (1874-1958)

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

This is one of my all-time favourite poems -'The Lake Isle of Innisfree' by the great W.B.Yeats.

"Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words." (Paul Engle)

William Butler Yeats (1865 –1939)

 Yeats's words transport me to his ideal place, Innisfree, in County Sligo, Ireland, so that I see, hear and feel it. It's as though I am standing there by that cabin of his dreams with the landscape around me. 

He also conveys the deep longing he feels when he is away from the place and in the city.  There, he is hemmed in by buildings, and swamped by the noise and bustle. But still, deep within his mind and soul is Innisfree, vivid and alive.

The sentiments of the poem resonate strongly with me as I too have my ideal place amid the fields and mountains, with lake water lapping, and peace and solitude.

We, each of us, have our own place that is special to us.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree 

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Here's the poem read by the man himself at:

And here it is set to music by Mike Scott and The Waterboys

I hope you enjoy The Lake Isle of Innisfree by WB Yeats in whichever format you choose to experience it 

Monday, 6 March 2017

Flowers are spelling it out...

"I often think flowers are the angels' alphabet whereby they write on hills and fields mysterious and beautiful lessons for us to feel and learn."

Beautiful sentiments from Louisa May Alcott (born 1832), who died on this day in 1888, aged 55. Author of Little Women (1868) Little Men (1871) and Jo's Boys (1886). She was also a transcendentalist, an abolitionist and a feminist.

She is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, near Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and  Henry David Thoreau. What a group of people! They are buried on a hillside now known as'Authors' Ridge'.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Clear Sight - John Ruskin

During a visit to John Ruskin's home at Brantwood, Cumbria, I saw this quote by him on what it means to truly see. 

Photo: Kathy Roscoe taken at Brantwood, Cumbria

Every moment we are awake, our eyes are open. We see the people and things around us and the events of the day unfold in front of our eyes. We look out of the window, at the faces of others, at TV screens, the sky, the street. We say we saw a friend, the neighbourhood, the park, or the people walking past us. The question is- do we see these things or are we just looking at them? Are they merely images, be they human or otherwise, that pass before our eyes and register in our brain? 

From time to time in our lives, something will happen and we find ourselves saying things like, "I did'n see it like that before," or " I see him/her in a whole new light."  These expressions imply that we are now seeing something we thought familiar in a clearer and deeper way.  Up to that point, we were seeing someone or something in a superficial way.  We saw the surface and mistook that for the totality of the person or thing. We failed to see that there was more.  To truly see, we must take our time and give our full attention. then we might see things as they really are.  

If we saw other people and other creatures as they are - their true essence and their reality - we might be more compassionate and see the miracle that is life. We might treat others and the earth in a new way and create a better and kinder world. 

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Relevance of John Ruskin - On the Role of Government

Quotes from John Ruskin on the role government and the State.  Wise words and very relevant today.

(John Ruskin 1819-1900)

"The first duty of government is to see that people have food, fuel, and clothes. The second, that they have means of moral and intellectual education."
 "The first duty of a state is to see that every child born therein shall be well housed, clothed, fed and educated till it attains years of discretion."

“What do we, as a nation, care about books? How much do you think we spend altogether on our libraries, public or private, as compared to what we spend on our horses?”

"Civilisation is the making of civil persons."

The Relevance of John Ruskin - on Nature

John Ruskin (1819-1900)

“Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty if only we have the eyes to see them.” 

“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather. ” 

“Remember that the most beautiful things in life are often the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance.” 

"I will not kill or hurt any living creature needlessly, nor destroy any beautiful thing, but will strive to save and comfort all gentle life, and guard and perfect all natural beauty upon the earth."

"Mountains are the beginning and the end of all natural scenery." 

"The actual flower is the plant's highest fulfilment, and are not here exclusively for herbaria, county floras and plant geography: they are here first of all for delight."

"There is no climate, no place, and scarcely an hour, in which nature does not exhibit color which no mortal effort can imitate or approach. For all our artificial pigments are,even when seen under the same circumstances, dead and lightless beside her living color; nature exhibits her hues under an intensity of sunlight which trebles their 

"I would rather teach drawing that my pupils may learn to love nature, than teach the looking at nature that they may learn to draw."

"It is written on the arched sky; it looks out from every star. It is the poetry of Nature; it is that which uplifts the spirit within us."