Island Blog – Curiosity, Mother Nature and the Joy of Sparrows

I walk this day along the track I know so well. And, yet, do I really, when each day shows me change, the change that Mother Nature brings with an enthusiasm I aspire? I watch the apple green of ground moss and the stone moss that covers each ancient story stone along the old dyke, like elvish hats. Above me silver lichen clings to the plane trees, their trunks giraffe necked and just as tall. Further on and I see the old dried blood colour of blackthorn branches, bare but for the thorns. Further still and there is the old beech giant, politely fallen some years ago and just above the track, beautiful in death, cracked, the host to spectacular tree fungi. The track beneath my feet is all beech leaves and larch needles, copper and ochre, golden and the green that says it will hang on for as long as it can.

In the fairy woods I gasp at the brilliance of tree moss, the way it fingers its way up the trunks of beech and oak, covering them like a glove and shining out new beauty into the season that some people think is the dying. It is, for some, but not for that life that thrives at such a time, through rains and gales and the menopausal flush of sudden shifts in temperature. Moving into the fairy woods I am pulled into the land of Hobbit. I can almost hear the apocalyptic horses pounding over the soft peaty ground, almost want to hid behind a giant luff of overgrowth, brambles, tree stumps, thornbush. I don’t, of course. I just pause in wonder.

There are no birds today. Not even the jays with their ice-cutter voices; no geese overhead, no songbirds. There is peace and an autumn silence. The track is muddied and puddled. I see the sky in those puddles. Hallo sky, I say. I smile at the faithful evergreen fir trees, the Douglas fir, the old Scots Pines that know the sky well. Of course they do. They almost touch it. And as I walk and as I watch and notice and pause and muse, I learn. I know I always will. There is always more for me, for us, to learn, if we can remain curious about our world, which, of course, is not ours at all, but just one we are so privileged to be living in. My belief is in that privilege and I do not take it lightly. Every single thing or person I see and notice teaches me.

I remember, when living in Glasgow and thereabouts for a couple of years, wondering how on earth I would survive for a week, let alone years, in such a concrete centre of noise and shout and traffic and fear. I decided. That’s what I did. And, thus, I walked the streets with the same curiosity. I sat in a park and watched families and their games; I stood beneath a tree confined by pavement and road and watched a blue tit pick off the new buds that would have become leaves. I learned that the tree knows this will happen, that hungry birds will pinch first growth and that they accommodate just that by sending out more than one first growth, the second of the first developing much faster into a leaf? Mother Nature is a wise old girl, for sure.

Now I am glad to back here on the island, where things are slower and peaceful and allowed to do their thing. The wind can batter, the rain soak, the track change daily and, as long as I can keep my curiosity alive and well, there will never be a day when there isn’t something out there that is worth an investigation, like the joy of sparrows as I returned home. Hidden within the depths of a rhododendron bush, they chipped and twittered at me as I passed. I don’t know how many were in there but I wished them well. Keep safe, little ones, I said. There are tawny owls and sparrow hawks about this autumn and we, we in this world, we need you.

‘The Nightingale one day was listening to a Shepherd’s skilful notes on his flageolet, and following them with his voice; the Sparrow who had been watching them for some time, at last broke out, saying, “How provoked I am to see a bird so learned as you are take lessons as if you were a novice, when you must know that the song of the Nightingale was heard with pleasure and admiration long before any instrument of music bad existence, and that it is yourself who are the teacher!”—” However that may be,” said the Nightingale, “if this Shepherd has learnt from me, I may now learn from him—he tries to imitate the capricious variations of my voice, and I may gain much if I can copy his scientific manner of arranging them; and I hope you know that even the voice of a Nightingale might be improved by rule.”


When the man of genius disdains to study, let him remember with the Nightingale in the Fable, that the greatest talents are those most capable of being improved by studious application’. Aesop’s Fable

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