Monday, 23 March 2009

Oughton Head: Water Meditation

In my attempt to think about water as one of the four key elements that occurs in the universe I looked at a map of my local area to see if I could find an interesting watery place. Whilst looking at the area round Hitchin, where I knew there were several small rivers, I decided to explore a place that was unknown to me and which turned out to be Oughton Head Nature Reserve. Oddly enough I didn't know of its existence even though I have cycled all round bridleways and roads near to it on many occasions. My search for water led me to a beautiful place of reedbeds, springs, trees and a reasonable expanse of water which seemed quite unusual for this part of the world.

In a recent blog I mentioned the geology of the chalk landscape around here and at Oughton Head there is a superb example of where the water from the chalk hills around Offley and Lilley emerges from underground. There is quite a steep sided tree-lined gully at the spring head, then there is then quite a wide and shallow river that extends through the trees to the main part of the nature reserve. On the morning of my visit I had cycled there over some bridleways that I hadn't been on before and so this was quite a day for new discoveries. The sky was clear with bright sunshine but a chilly breeze blew in exposed places. Celandines, violets, daffodils and trees full of blossom were appearing everywhere. Spring had definitely sprung.

At Oughton Head I find a place to sit beside the waters edge and begin to write:

At the spring head, a few hundred yards upstream from where I sit, the sparkling clear waters emerge into the bright and welcoming sunshine that is awakening the winter landscape. My first impressions were of a place of beauty but also of a place well used by the public. There were well worn paths down to the waters edge, several paths though the trees and a reasonable amount of rubbish (car tyres, bottles and bits of metal) and branches had been thrown into the water. It is amazing how water always attracts people. A place like this is a huge natural playground, presumably enjoyed by many young people. On this Sunday morning there were many people out and about: just sitting, walking their dogs, riding horses, out on their bikes with families or just enjoying a gentle stroll.

It is into this landscape that the clear, fresh spring water, permeating through the white chalk for goodness knows how long, emerges. It is welcomed by the sunlight, by trees, by birdsong, by people and by our rubbish. I am aware, however, that the water may not be as pure as one might imagine. Has the chalk filtered out all the chemicals from fertilizers or from road-side ditches I wonder? Water is all too often not viewed with the reverence that it deserves. It is a sacred and integral part not just of the landscape, but also ourselves and the whole of life depends on it. It may well be a convenient waste disposal system but it is also a living ecosystem that is apart of our bodies.

The water is so clear here, it isn't often I see such clear water in this part of the country. The bottom of the river is only one or two feet deep, but about 10-20 ft wide or more in places. A breeze ripples across the surface of the water, the tiny waves casting a myriad of fine lines of light across the chalky river bottom. As the wind strengthens and declines I watch the patterns made both on the water's surface and below - always changing, always moving, always interacting with the river bank and other objects in the water. Patterns that shift and change infinitely. Shimmering reflections are also cast onto the bark of overhanging alder trunks.

This huge rippled mirror seems almost unnaturally flat in the landscape. A barrier between the subterranean earth and the mirrored infiniteness of time and space above it. A boundary between two unknowns. When we look into the water we see down towards the deepest depths, but also up into the reflected sky and beyond. Both merge. And the mirror moves, gently and silently - a huge mass of water in graceful gentleness. I scoop up a handful of water and smell its fragrance (but I don't drink it).

I wonder how much life is in the water here, particularly on the more undisturbed parts away from splashing dogs and playful children?

I'm getting cold now, so will move on.

Azolla filiculoides (Water Fern) - reddish carpet, like duckweed, on the water in nature reserve.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Water in the Landscape

A sunny, spring like day finds me sitting up on the hill above Barton Le Clay, and then in farmland near Lilley, to reflect on water in the landscape.

Barton Hills:
I wonder how much of the landscape around me is affected by water. There is a fairly clear sky above me with hazy cirrus clouds and the inevitable white vapour trails that scratch across the blueness. Water put there by nature and water put there by man.

The edge of the Chilterns here is quite a spectacular sight with the land dropping down steeply below me in a series of deep gulleys that cut through the chalk. The steep slopes are covered with the barest of short grasses and I wonder how this chalk escarpment was originally formed; what action of water has taken place over the millennia to shape this landscape? I found a small leaflet on the web about the geology of the area and it described how the landscape here was formed. Originally the area would have been under water but geological movement meant the seas lowered and the land folded to create the chalk escarpment. The action of a huge ice sheet that covered the landscape and erosion (around half a million years ago) sculpted the chalk ridge into the current landscape.

Hawthorns cling to soil here, perhaps rooting in ground disturbed by rabbits and their burrows. I think about how rain falls on the soil, is taken up by the hawthorns, helps form their berries which will subsequently be eaten by birds. Many animals and birds only get water through the food they eat and this must certainly be the case for all the rabbits around here grazing on the fine chalkland grass.

The ground must be very permeable to water and able to hold vast quantities of water within its structure. There seem little signs of erosion so the chalk must absorb large quantities of rain quite quickly. In fact it is a freeze-thaw cycle causing soil creep that apparently causes soil erosion here, and the numerous small parallel ledges that run along the hillside carrying large masses of soil downwards. There is a small spring and stream at the bottom of the gulley I gather (where the water hits a more impermeable and clayey Lower Chalk) but I haven't seen it yet. The chalk itself is a product of ocean-dwelling organisms. The rabbits seem to be able to dig in the top soil and chalk here quite easily. Piles of soil and small crumbly pieces of chalk litter the grassland. Perhaps the soil here is reasonably deep, though on the nearby fields the white of the chalk is evident on the top most parts of the field where the plough has dug into the surface chalk.

There are piles of horse manure (I assume) up by a fence. A good source of organic matter to hold nutrients and water in the soil. I think of horse digestion and the role water/liquids has to play in it.

Trees and plants have a great ability to use soil bound water. Growing on such steep slopes must be a challenge and I look across at the woodland on the other side of the valley. As plants colonise the ground so the amount of water held within the soil must increase, making more available to the plants and the larger species to then add to the mix. The amount of organic matter held in the soil will increase and surface evaporation will probably be less. Plants can then use the water more efficiently rather than allowing it to run off or soak away.

The large fields around here may be good agribusiness with crop production and chemical input carefully controlled and monitored, but the amount of water available is not so easily manageable by the farmer. Water is a crucial factor in crop production but we can't control the weather. In dry soils like this the use of fertilizers and possibly drought resistant crops will probably enable crops to survive dry conditions. I expect the amount of water-holding organic matter in these fields is negligible.

Seen several bumble bees, speedwell, Brimstone butterflies (around and about) and violets (yesterday).

I gaze out over some fields and hedges and wonder "What place does water have in this landscape?"

I am immediately tempted to say that it helps plants to grow, but I decide to look for another answer.

Water is present in the air when it rains. The atmosphere is filled with water and humidity. The space it occupies changes under the effects of gravity, pulling the water to the earth and the plants upon which it falls. Subsequently most of the water will find its way into the particles of soil if it doesn't evaporate. The water then becomes an intrinsic part of the landscape - bonding with particles of soil, roots, organic material and living organisms. Something seen - the falling rain, suddenly becomes invisible to the eye, abosorbed into the darkness of the earth. So much water much be absorbed into the earth - the chalk deep below. Some will be evaporated by the wind and some will be taken up via plant roots into plant bodies and, again, later evaporated from the surface of leaves.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Ambition To Meaning

I watched Dr. Wayne Dyer's film "Ambition To Meaning" on DVD a few days ago and made a few notes:

"Returning to nature" is more about "finding your own nature".

All of us have originated from nothing - all being originates from non-being. Perhaps the ultimate non-being or nothing is Spirit. We have all originated from Spirt.

Striving and Ego:
We are always striving, trying to do or reach something. We identify ourselves by our possessions. The more we have the more our ego desires. It seeks gratification and affirmation. Is my value dependent on what I want to accomplish? We can be so competitive, that's another thing the ego wants. The ego teaches us that we are separate from God. If the Spirit is everywhere, then it must also be in me - I must connect with it.

How do we move into the meaning of our lives? We must surrender, there must be trust - live by it and don't let it control you (?). Do you live an inspired life? Do you get inspired? You have to keep practicing until it comes naturally (?).

Trees reaching for each other. How do I think in images?

If I don't have ambition would I get anything done? It is all about where the energy comes from. Is it just pure ambition and the desire of our ego, or is it a greater thing that draws upon your Divine purpose? What is my own divinity capable of achieving? The ego always makes you "right" about what you say and think. Stop interfering with your life - let it be done to you. Die to the ego and begin to live a life of love and connecting to the Source. If you ever think "what if my life has been wrong", then that is a tragedy.

Giving up is good. There is a spiritual solution to every problem.

Life-changing Events:
Sometimes we can undergo "Quantum Moments" when something happens that makes us re-evaluate who or what we are. This can change our values as follows:

Men's values before: wealth, achievement, accomplishment, pleasure, respect
Men's values after: spirituality, personal peace, family, God's will/sense of purpose, honesty

Women's values before: family, independence, career, fitting in, attractiveness
Women's values after: personal growth, sense of self-esteem, spirituality, happiness, forgiveness.

  • Reverence for all life

  • Sincerity/honesty

  • Gentleness/kindness

  • Supportiveness/service

Sometimes you just have to show up and the music happens. Everything is there, waiting for you, just wait for it to show up. The things you want for yourself - really you should want them more for other people. It is not about what I can get, but how can I serve? Then the Universe says "How can I serve you?" Your purpose will always be found in service, that is how God thinks. Touching people's lives is the most important things. Your attention should be "How may I serve?", don't focus just on outcomes. Live in meaning, live in virtues.

Reach out to a fellow human being in need and forget the ego.

You don't necessarily attract what you want, you attract what you are. Forget about yourself.

You are only a thought away from changing your life.

Prayer for a New Day

I welcome you
This new day.
I reach out into the air
This new day.
I breathe in your freshness
This new day.
I reach to touch the earth
This new day.
I walk on your firmness
This new day.

I say not to the negative
This new day.
I look for the positive
This new day.
I say yes to peace
This new day.
I ask for balance
This new day.

I ask for inspiration
This new day.
I awaken to your gifts
This new day.
I seek the unknown
This new day.
I embrace all I encounter
This new day.

I ask for new paths
This new day.
I ask for guidance
This new day.
I ask for wisdom
This new day.

I ask to be welcomed
This New Day.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Woodland Emerging

Woodland near Wrest Park, Silsoe.

The spring sun is bright in the cloudless sky. I'm in a patch of planted woodland, possibly limes, where the tall regimental creamy coloured trunks reach up the to the high canopy that murmers in the cold westerly wind. The landscape is full of strong verticals casting long parallel shadows hugging the ground. A bright green carpet arises from under the brown, crisp leaves of autumn past. The Dog's Mercury is so vivid when back-lit sunlight passes though their translucent leaves. The colour seems almost unnatural after a long cold winter. It is one of the first plants of the year to reach up out of the cold soil and into the space of birdsong: tits, chaffinch, blackbird, crow and woodpecker. A similar striking green is shown by the mosses on some decaying tree trunks. In contrast, there is the tall climbing shimmering dark green ivy, the almost mustard green of some sky high mistletoe, whilst a nearby field remains an unconspicuous pale green and expectant.

On the woodland floor the soft, crumbly drying leaves are being consumed by the earth and its inhabitants. The flat leaves are dissolving away leaving a curled fragile framework of stems and veins creating a more delicate and airy feel than just a wet mass of leaves of winter. These leaves will form new soil and, as the dog's mercury and bluebells reach up from the soil below, so their shapes will enter the shadows and be broken down further.

I look at a patch of earth that has been disturbed by either deer or some other animal scratching away at the woodland floor. I pick up a handful of the earth and smell it - it is so fragrant. So different to some soil I smelt last week in a recently ploughed corn field - you could hardly smell it at all. It just seemed to lack vibrancy, life and organic matter. Here, the earth is so beautiful. In this patch, no more than a foot square, I find a large number of snail shells - so much life in a small area. I don't think I had ever thought about how many snails lived in an area like this!

This is spring in motion and transition. A time of growth and hastening decay. The transparent and spacious landscape will soon be filled with leaves.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Earth Meditation

A hazy morning with a cool breeze and there is a feeling that the clouds might clear to reveal sunshine later on. There is a sense of spring in the air. There always seems to be something about the air at this time of the year, hints of new fresh smells that are the beginnings of the spring awakening. And then there is just the joy of breathing slightly warmer and air and not feeling so cold.

I'm sitting on a pile of rubble on the top of a hill overlooking Luton below me. It's actually a pile of road planings. The black, tar encrusted stones are cold, sharp, coagulated lumps of rock hard brittleness. Piled up against the hedgerow probably for use to repair the large farm tracks that criss-cross the landscape here. Tracks that are well made and get heavy use from walkers, cyclists, horse-riders and large farm machines. The rubble is becoming well colonised by mosses, grasses, mugwort and numerous other species of flora. The baron and unwelcoming surface becomes home to much wildlife. Perhaps I should have carefully disturbed some of the stones to see what invertebrate life I could find, but I didn't think of it at the time. It wasn't a really comfortable seat upon which to sit!

The air is filled with birdsong and the hedges here seem alive with birds chirping and fluttering. I hear tits, chaffinches, partridge, skylarks and was that a goldfinch high up in the tree, black against the grey sky? The gentle hum of the town rises from the valley below me. New Elder leaves are breaking from their dormant boughs, reddish green leaves, about one to two centimeters long begin their journey of growth into the spring air.

The edge of the track here is one of those edge of town dumping grounds for all kinds of rubbish and litter. A meeting place between the urban and the rural. It is like an unofficial boundary that rings urban areas, an outward spreading of urban waste and disconnectedness that is symptomatic of modern culture.

There are many cycles of growth and decay in nature. The earth - we quarry stone, process it, build and then demolish and dump. The rock finding its way back into the superficial crust of the earth. And likewise with so many other resources such as plastics from the millennia old oils that end up in landfill. Why is this process any more destructive than the natural processes around us? It is the processing that is destructive - releasing pollutants and changing natural cycles, such as the carbon cycle. We are interfering with nature.

I take a closer look at the uncultivated stubble of the nearby field. Present are large flints, white and cream against the pale soil. Litter fragments are strewn over the surface: a CD, pieces of plastic, bottles, cans, paper... We demand so much of the soil and have high expectations of its productivity. It a sense it has become a substance of abuse. We force upon it the production of crops, fertilizers and heavy machinery. It is such a thin and fragile surface of the landscape. I notice the fields and their visual smoothness, undulating curves of production. The underlying landscape form is, of course, natural - according to the geology of the land, but the crops just lie on the intimate surface - waiting to be shaved off by the combine. There is no real dynamic ecological system as in, say, a woodland. Does woodland produce a greater biomass I wonder? What are the timescales of production - are they greatest in cultivated fields?

Brrr, I'm getting chilly!