Sunday, 26 April 2009

The Energy of Spring

A sunny and surprisingly warm start to the day finds me sitting beside a tall and mature hedgerow overlooking fields near Hitchin. Most nights recently have still been quite cold, even though the days have been warm. There has been little rain over the past few weeks so the ground is quite dry - on the surface anyway. This feels like the first warm spring morning although there is a coolish breeze.

The chestnut trees on the hill in front of me are well in leaf now and the remaining tress in the landscape are forming a distinct greenish tinge. In the past couple of weeks since I have been out there has been a dramatic change in the landscape as Spring weaves her creative dance over the earth. Bluebells carpet the woods and hedgerows are bursting forth with nettles, ground ivy, red dead nettle, white dead nettle, hedge garlic and 'cow parsley' (or whatever it is).

The grassed edge to the field here is buzzing with flies, hoverflies and other vague unidentifiables whilst a beetle and a woodlouse are spotted in the grass beside me. Life has exploded into the landscape. A white butterfly flickers by; I am sure I can hear some long-tailed tits nearby; I see a blue tit and several chaffinches; pheasants in the field and a couple of distant hares. Elderflower buds are forming well.

There is so much energy in the landscape now. I am now in a month of thinking about Fire - my final element to ponder over, in my four month vague study of the elements. The sun is providing so much energy to the landscape today. From the distant sun the radiation is pouring though the hazy atmosphere onto the landscape, warming the earth beneath my feet and supplying energy for the photosynthesis of plants. And yet the amount of cosmic light that reaches our small planet is only a fraction of that produced by the Sun. So much is just expended into the depths of space, and yet here, there is one planet that uses that radiant energy to create and evolve life. It is placed in what is probably a very unique location in space in order to receive just the right amount of energy to enable successful growth of life. The earth reflects and absorbs the light to such varying degrees. Soil, vegetation, water, clouds, roads and buildings etc all interact with the sun's energy in so many varying ways. Perhaps it is the leaves of plants that make the best use of the light energy via photosynthesis. I am surrounded by greenness that reaches out to the sun.

I watch several birds flying over the field: a crow, and something small and faster. I acknowledge that this requires energy expenditure. We humans like to be warm. We like to seek out warm sunny days, to our warm-bloodiedness the sun is welcome.

So much energy goes into growing crops in the landscape around me. Tractors and farm machinery burn fuel to enable them to pull ploughs, cultivate the soil, spray chemicals and harvest crops. Fertilizers and chemicals all required energy input into their manufacture as well as their application. Harvesting and processing of crops requires a large energy input to, in effect, enable the energy capture in the seeds by photosynthesis to be extracted by other purposes - feed or processing. There is always a transfer of energy from one form to another and of course 'entropy increases as matter and energy in the universe degrade to an ultimate state of inert uniformity' (a web definition of entropy).

This hedgerow is a concentration of energy capture and production. An organic system for taking the suns energy and producing the physical structure of the plants around me. It requires the presence of the other main elements, water, air and earth, to form the living structures of the trees and undergrowth. The whole hedgerow is designed to maximise the potential of the light and to enable a diverse range of plants to co-exist with each other on this sun-facing edge in unique niche habitats. It is Gaia working at her best. Somehow it seems as if the potential for the earth to be creative is so often ignored. The large flat mono-culture fields may be highly productive in crop terms and have a maximum output economically for production and harvesting, but it isn't how nature works. The earth may have a huge potential for creating growth and diversity but not for generating profit.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Easter and Sustainability

Firstly, a few random notes:

Easter church sermon notes: Surrounded by love that awakens in the light : man extinguished the light of the world : Man put to death Jesus : Man put to death creation and nature : we killed the light : the Easter love that grows from the earth and becomes a sacrifice for all : what response does this demand form me? : What is the sacrifice?


I am reminded of Satish Kumar's great analogy of the apple tree that provides an abundance of fruit. Many varied organisms will feed upon its apples and there is no discrimination on the part of the tree as to who should eat them. It freely gives to all who are hungry: birds, wasps, humans, fungi, slugs - a huge diversity of life will devour the fruit and release the precious seeds inside.

Sustainability is a word that is used a huge amount these days in many varied contexts. How can we relate to it? How does it tie in with the apple tree, and how can it be linked to the Easter story of love, sacrifice, death, resurrection and new growth? How is God linked to sustainability, the ongoing creation/existence of the earth and His intervention in the process of human evolution?

The culture we live in is geared to the supply of products that meet our wants and needs. We are always wanting more. Perhaps, until recently, there has been no real sense of there ever being a finite supply of food, clothes, entertainment, computer games, holidays and anything we may desire (for the majority of the Western population at least). The recession we are now in is, I hope, awakening many more people to the realities of our lifestyle based around economics of money, meeting needs, resource exploitation and selfishness. Development of a modern society has been based around fulfilling the needs that people have, There is little sense of doing with what we've got.

I wondered, as we are part of the divinely created universe, why God has allowed us to deplete resources and expand beyond our abilities. From my Christian perspective and background, I feel very much as if God has left us to get into the mess we are in. There seems to be something slightly amiss when I think about how God is perceived as a personal saviour and friend at an intimate level and yet globally seems to be absent. God is always in the 'people', rarely in the 'earth'. God is in the micro of our lives, but not in the macro, one could say? A more ecological view of God readdresses the balance. You become aware of just how linked your personal experience of living is connected to the bigger global picture.

Does the future look bleak? To every generation the future may look sacry - it is always a place of change, uncertainty and unknowing. The mechanics of society and culture are deeply engaged in a set process, visionaries seek alternatives to the present way of doing things, but how do you motivate and mobilise change across a country, millions of people and systems that exist.

I am uncertain of my role in all of this. What is my part in being a ecological self seeking to change the world for the better?

Going back to Easter, there may be a sense in which the crucifixion of Jesus represents the crucifixion of our earth. Exploitation and ignorance put to death that which supports, teaches, heals and sustains us. Nature becomes that which must be sacrificed, but it knows that it can never be fully put to death. It will always survive.

And what about the role of, and connections of, humans to Nature? Sometimes it seems as though we have evolved beyond that which the planet was designed for. We no longer seem to be living in harmony with the earth. I wonder if we are really part of it now - have we become like cancer cells that grow and grow and take over the host body? Who knows.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Listening to the Landscape

Hoo Bit Nature Reserve, Easter Monday

It is early in the morning, about 8.30am, and I am sitting on a stile overlooking Hoo Bit Nature Reserve. This is a small patch of chalk grassland tucked away in the middle of the woods above Pegsdon. It is cool, misty and damp and it could either rain or turn out warm and sunny.

What can I learn about communication from this landscape?

I am surrounded by birdsong. I would like to have been up here several hours ago to hear the main dawn chorus, but I didn't make the effort. The air is still filled with the songs and sounds of many birds. This is a place where birds have the space to communicate without constraint. There is singing, cooing; pheasants, tits, pigeons and a wealth of songbirds whose melodies and utterances carry across the surrounding woodland and into the morning air. Sounds that seem natural, no birdsong seems out of place in this landscape.

Human noises, whether the chatter of people talking, or that of distant cars and aeroplanes, would be an intrusion in this soundscape. The song of birds is never, I assume, full of idle chit-chat; or created just for the fun of it; or caused as a by product of other activities (in the sense of how we create noise by driving cars just to get us from one place to another). I expect that, for birds, their song is truly a matter of survival - whether for mating, feeding, warning or territory marking. We humans have no significant predators in the natural environment here and so our communication would have significant differences, methods and impacts here. Humans would always be talking and chattering and many may be oblivious to listening and really observing to what was going on around them as they passed by here.

So much birdsong and yet most of the birds are invisible to my eye, hidden away in the trees and undergrowth. Air is such an effective medium for the carrying of sound and birds are perhaps adapted to using it more than animals do. How many animals do I hear in places like this? I am aware of the presence of deer, rabbits, squirrels, mice, stoats and other animals by more subtle clues, but birds just want to shout it out! They are a very vocal component part of the landscape.

I notice how noisy pigeons are when they fly around - wings are quite "flappy"!

Trees and plants are almost the reverse of birds, highly visible and yet totally silent to our senses. In the grass are some violets, almost unseen at first glance but then I become aware of the delicate purple flowers. These must be first of the grassland flowers to appear here before the grasses really begin to get growing. Cowslip buds and spotted orchid leaves indicate some flowers that will appear later. I wonder how the violets are pollinated? Some plants and small and inconspicuous. Others, like the bramble, are aggressive and vigorous colonisers. Thorny and untouchable, yet producing a wealth of flowers and fruit to the benefit of other wildlife.

And the trees - still and silent. Crowded in the woodland, but yet always finding their own space. Buds are beginning to open and varied green tinges are beginning to cover bare branches. I wonder what a tree communicates or symbolises to a bird? Perch, food reserve, roost site, song post, territory marker, nest site, security...? Trees can be very symbolic to humans - often in green imagery and art the human form is depicted as blending with that of a tree. Connection? Spirit?

A flock of pigeons rises noisily from a distant oilseed rape field. The 50 or so birds twist and turn as a group before landing again in a different part of the crop. How do birds fly in groups like that?

Two male blackbirds appear briefly at the edge of the woodland, squawking twisting through the undergrowth - a display of male aggression?

The ecology of the landscape is a total interaction between the elements, organic and inorganic. It is always changing. Every part of the landscape here is managed by man somehow, whether that has been in the past or now in the present. The whole ecosystem and it component parts revolves around this intensively farmed landcape. Even this nature reserve is managed by the clearence of invasive silver birch, the fence built all around it and the conversion of an old reservoir into a bat hibernaculum.

The landscape has to accept the weather and adapt to the changes that we impose upon it - within the limits of what it can tolerate of course. It changes all the time, one big organic system where everything has an effect on everything else.

Here I can learn about being still, observing, learning, touching, coaching, encouraging, nurturing, not damaging, clearing, space, colour, inspiration, individual needs, networks and communication.

* * * * *

I had been up here last week and one reason for my returning again so soon was to try and identify some birds I had seen then. At first I thought they might have been something exotic, but I am sure they were just Jays. For most of my time here I heard nothing unusual and I thought I might have been disappointed, but then the group appeared again, flying from tree to tree and traversing the woods around me. What first had caught my attention was the variety of sounds they made. I almost felt I was in the depths of a tropical jungle with sort of whooping, hooping noises and other loud grating/see-sawing sounds. It felt a bit spooky - a small flock of medium sized birds that seemed to command the woods around them and take hold of the soundscape for themselves. I have always known the typical Jay alarm call, but here there seemed a variety of bubbling and chattering noises as well as a loud call that just filled the space around the trees. The birds were always moving and always keeping well ahead of me so I could only really identify them in flight.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Ecological Communication

I have always been interested in how I can develop my communication skills. I've been on a few courses and have a pile of varied books on my bookcase on the subject, but somehow I wondered if there might be deeper and more creative way to enhance my skills. Somehow, I think I need a personal motivation to take things further. It occurred to me that, as I feel I can relate to nature so well, perhaps this is the doorway to exploring the subject from a more relational and perspective. This might bring about better results. I know I have read much about how the natural environment can improve our health, well-being and confidence. Somehow I would like to build a stronger foundation based on nature, ecology and improved methods of communication. It is about improving the way I relate to people, work colleagues, friends and to build networks with those around me. Isn't this the core of natural relationships between the elements of the natural world? If I can understand more about how these relationships work, the dynamics of them and their relationship at an ecological, spiritual, emotional and physical level, then I am sure I can bring about a change in the way I work.

I don't wish to advocate a romantic environmentalism approach in any of my thinking even though it is easy to do so because being out in nature gives us, usually, a rather pleasant feeling. From a more deep ecology/Gaia based view of interconnectedness, then communication is a key factor is living sustainably and respectfully with and within the natural world. Once you become aware of your presence and belonging on the earth from an ecocentric viewpoint it can become important to establish a personal mission of communication - between yourself and your soul, between yourself and others and between yourself and the earth.

Why do I bother with all of this? Is it all a bit airy-fairy? Well - it interests me and I enjoy thinking about it. It works for me.

Having drawn up a rough initial mind-map of the possibilities I realised this could be quite a large project. How should I progress with it? Is it worth the time and energy in doing so? What am I really trying to achieve?

I was looking out of the cafe this morning at a small tree planted on the edge of the industrial estate and wondered about what it could teach me about communication. Perhaps it could represent the following qualities: stillness, presence, grounding in its environment, stability in adversity, interconnection with the earth and other elements, able to hold its own conversation... qualities that I need in my life and in my relationships with others.

Goat Willow (Salix caprea)

This attractive Goat Willow male catkin was in full flower in the lakes at Langford (Beds) a few days ago. I tried to photograph some of the many bumble bees feeding on the flowers but they were reluctant to come within camera distance and. if they did, I couldn't get a decent picture.