The lightness of being in the dark – reconnecting with nature

Last night I sat quietly outside in the dark. I don’t know for how long but, in a way, this makes it more meaningful.The sky to the North glistened with stars and my eyes drifted across them from West to East. I dreamed of other worlds, other life. Soon the stars vanished and re-emerged as broken cloud began to fill the sky, something I remember registering as a child.

I could hear a plane’s low whine high up, and I instinctively tracked ahead of the sound to discover lights blinking before watching them disappear behind the mist. I thought about where this plane might be going and why.

Closer to home, a tawny owl was deep in conversation with another far across the valley. I wondered what they might be saying to each other. I recollected, these weren’t the usual mating calls.

Lost in thought, I felt a whisp of air across my cheek, as if my daughter was kissing me softly. I couldn’t see a thing; another breeze on the same cheek then a whirl of a wing. I soon recognised these were bats after the small moths around me. They were unafraid of me yet aware and I concluded it was a privilege to be so near them.

Experience, to me, is both sense-perception and reasoning through innate inquisitivity. Whether this equals knowledge or truth is another step, one I’m exploring through study right now.

But I think, in a similar way, we may sense and ask questions of ourselves by embracing these nature-connecting experiences more often, and in the engineering of our own consents rather than allowing others to grant them to us. In doing so we might just cultivate self-trust, discovering more light in our personal darkness than we ever thought possible.


Cool Springs Rise

For my mother.


Cool springs rise to The Craft’s steep slope

filtering to a twisted pipe.

On warm days lambs will sip in hope

before it drains beneath the yarrow.


Floods benignly feed

our silty depths; a pool within the fold.

Rain in plenty, now.

In seventy-six this well was dry and rusty.


That year, old George would recollect

the well once pumped a seamless flow

for healthy stock and wartime folk;

village life in unity.


I made the dimpled well my den,

hid from Germans and most gentlemen.

In bolder times, I’d spy from naive Front,

amidst our lofty blue delphiniums


as George would guard

and tend the scented borders.

Not long before his death,

his daughter brought him to our yard.


Tall man sat, weak,

leaned toward his walking stick,

smiled and spoke of cherry,

hops and bonfires;


of cider makers’ hands.

Sometimes, in smoke borne light

he’d hear them sing

a tune from home ~ in Italy.


Our well is full with bracing rain,

soaks the borders once again.

The tank’s old tin is freshly painted green

and by a tenor’s grandson.



River dipper

I take a deep breath and turn to my family with a wry smile. I walk out until I can walk no more. Out of my depth, my feet lift from the slippery river bed and I slowly swim in circles beneath the alders. Here I am, I still exist, and despite the initial shock! The water is enveloping. My breath is quick, snatched through clenched teeth. The water is icy here in shadow. I have all the time in the world to adjust; it’s a beautiful day.

As I reach out in symmetrical waves, like an oversized amphibian, flora brush against my bare ankles. Sun light sparkles on circling ripples. I decide to make for the light and some heat, relishing every move, stretching every sinew of my ageing body. But the water is deeper here and, beneath those glinting stars, jet black. There will be big fish I can’t see. Deep breath, swim on against the flow, aware that I don’t feel cold anymore. Perhaps all feeling is lost. It doesn’t matter! So I relax a little and take in the brightness, the sun’s heat on my face, glimpsing the movement of my hands beneath the water. The air is damp, earthy and organic.

The flow is suddenly faster here, deceptive river! I have to kick my legs with energy, freestyle, boiling the water. An electric thought races through my mind ~ what if I am swept away? And then, just as quickly, the thought is gone.

I turn to face downstream and the riffles below this perfect pool on the Wye. Small boulders and shallow white water give clue to where I could emerge, if I just let go…

There is a dipper dipping there, with a white chest like a cotton ball against the teals and tans of the river. My decision is swift. I swim directly to the riverbank, avoiding this beauty who is hunting for his life. I don’t want to disturb him. A quick burst of energy and my feet find purchase in the shallows, currents pulling at my feet ~ the river desires me to return. I can’t help grinning and feel the rush of warmth as blood returns to my skin.

It is a meditation, river swimming. Try it, but somewhere safe and don’t go alone. It’s liberating and free of charge. Plus, it reminds us we are alive and at one with nature. Enjoy.

The Ladybird and the Ring


Today is a beautiful day and I hold a perfect Summer gem in my hand. She’s a 5-spot ladybird, Coccinella 5-punctata, flown to me as I perch by the river’s edge watching Ben, our collie-cross, playing in the shallows.

Coccinella 5-punctata are a common ladybird in Europe, but endangered here in the UK. They’re usually associated with river shingle, but I found and recorded a new colony a couple of years ago on a local limestone slab which plunges into the River Wye upstream from where I live. So they are, perhaps, a little more adaptable than at first thought here in the extremes of their comfortable range in Europe.

This little female is a living gem, an invertebrate with eyes and a mouth, a body and legs. Although she could represent an archetype or form of what the word ‘ladybird’ means to us, she is distinct in minute ways from any other female in the species and is certainly not an automaton. She interacts with her environment, taking in oxygen, exhaling carbon dioxide, eating aphids, making choices. She creates a home among the wild chives and thyme, which bind thin soils in the imperfections of the rock. This habitat thrives. It thrives despite an annual torrent of floods punching at the slab and submerging it for days at a time under fast, red silty flow. A male of the species (or two) pursues, mates with her, she lays eggs, they hatch, grow into nymphs and on into adulthood. And the rhythm of it all begins again the following year. This annual heartbeat is part of a wider ensemble, the musicality of ecological longevity.

Wrapped around my ring finger is a band of gold. This was my mother’s wedding ring (I lost mine on a beach somewhere far away). I inherited it after her sudden death. I don’t wear it often, but today it is worn as a reminder of her and that I still love her dearly. When I woke this morning, I had not expected to be seated here by the river with two such valuable things to hand. A ladybird, rare or otherwise, and my mother’s ring, both of which I treasure.

Of course the treasures I describe differ. And I see one as more ‘good’ than the other. I value life.

Value theory, or axiology as the science of value, is a key area in academic philosophy though perhaps itself undervalued by the environmental movement as a whole. The word ‘value’ simply derives from the language of economics and further ‘use value’ divides into two distinct areas, satisfaction and admiration. The smaller teleological group of ethical theories asserts that if an action is ‘good’ in terms of moral conduct it will bring about ‘good’ consequences. The deontological or duty based group would suggest the actions can be deemed good without regard for consequences, like adhering to rules, whether or not the consequences are positive or negative.

Returning to the treasures I have in hand: These are, of course, not actions but objects with differing properties and the things that, perhaps, unite them are that they are both in my hand and that I’ve called them ‘treasures.’ But I interact with them and so it is a good thing to examine the ethics of my consideration of them.

This gold band is something which, without humans, would be largely valueless to all other life on this planet. In theory it serves to enrich human monetary wealth in its mass-production and existence, human aesthetics in its glittering beauty and the value of human relationships in some way through symbolism, giving and receiving. This particular ring is not particularly extraordinary and neither is its history. Other hand-crafted rings may be but this is a mass-produced ring, with gold probably industrially mined in South Africa. If it were injurious in its making, I will never know. That it was my mother’s wedding ring my father gave to her at the particular Church where they are now buried together, means much to me, but perhaps little to you. It was once lost in a garden ash tip and my grandmother found it after hours of painstaking search much to the relief of my mother. So in some way it also reminds me of my grandmother, who I was dearly fond of and whom, it is said, I take after in looks and temperament. It was on my mother’s ring finger when I found her after she had died, so there’s an emotional link remaining, even after much counselling. Once I am done with this life myself, I hope my daughter will have it. Whether she will value it as I do is unknown. Perhaps she will sell it and use the money for a number of things, or experiences (my preferred choice), or exchange it for something else of equivalent economic value. She may even choose to keep it.

A 5-spot ladybird is of absolute intrinsic value to itself, its mates and its offspring. Given ecological homeostatis, it will hold in balance the things it eats and the things that may eat it. As such it benefits the wider biosphere in a small way, the one of course in which we humans are also a part. The instrumental value, extrinsic, use-value of the entire biosphere to human life is where some conservationists focus, as the foundation upon which to build a protection system. “We cannot destroy the biosphere because we rely on it” for our physical, mental and spiritual well being. In other words, we save it for the sake of ourselves. There is one significant failure in this approach, however. It is our species selfishness, or dominion, held over all other life forms and unreliable as a method of protection. It is the same ethic which caused environmental degradation in the first instance. For example, if this tiny ladybird be deemed dispensable in any overall anthropocentric assessment of the state of the biosphere, its extrinsic value falls immediately away. If a species like fox be classed a threat to humans, say via the spread of rabies, human selfishness would allow ourselves carte blanche to eradicate fox. Yet we are unsure just how many individuals, let alone species, life on this planet can do without before catastrophic collapse. We don’t even know the full extent of our impacts to date, let alone predict with any viable certainty what will happen in future. So in terms of the protection of individuals and species, extrinsic valuation of non-human life as first principle is a high risk human strategy, given the pressures also weighing down upon nature from other human demands, such as water and minerals and now climatic change.

Human pluralistic values are unavoidable, inevitable and culturally enriching. To blithely instruct others to dispel their beliefs and value systems I admit is a step too far, even if the intent is good. Better to value those values, encourage new ways of thinking through education, collective and inter-disciplinary discourse, citizenship. Treasuring life in most ways is ultimately going to lead to protection in some form. But with pluralistic value sets there will be priorities of judgment and these will impact outcomes. The problem with money in our capitalist pro-growth economy is that it overrides (often legislatively), pluralistic values. The ultimate questions are what is best for Planet Earth as a whole and are those human actions just? It so happens that what is best for humans will be determined by the health of the planet; there is mutuality.

My reasoned belief is that we are at a point in time when a value shift would enhance the cause for environmental protection. Absolute intrinsic value (even as opposed to relative intrinsic value), is something we cannot let go of completely. The ladybird in my hand is alive, and should be free to flourish. Sentience is hugely important, of course, but not essential for intrinsic value. All life should be afforded similar thought, at the very least. However, our own existence relies on the taking of other life in some form or another, as we participate in food chains and creating our own habitats, just as other lifeforms here on Earth do so.

The question remains, however, how much should or shouldn’t we take? Less is one answer but I will write again about the ‘how much’. For now I suggest we also have to look carefully at moral standing as well as relative intrinsic worth but I would always encourage intrinsics to be somewhere near, if not at, the top of the list. To treasure life is to hold dear, cherish and love unconditionally, without expectation or fear, and we could all be very much more connected to nature this way.


The body lies in a clearing

long, tan feathers broken in a breeze
quiet for a few minutes, washed up
from an array of shades, the place
where they gave chase.
Body exhales in the sun, yellow eyes
set in red shivvers, blue-green throat
crushed by loners; there is no blood.
The wood’s cool ambition repels
a body that did not make it;
little tenderness in claw and beak.
Since the body could not embrace,
its finery is the tomb of the wood
still warm for new beginnings.