My home and surroundings are out in the countryside, settled amongst grass covered hills, golden and often windswept during the hot dry of the summer, and then green in the winters and spring with chilly winds and light or medium frosts. There are scattered lots of trees, a large natural mud-bottomed lake with abundant wildlife, and a deep freshwater pond hidden amongst some trees overgrown with ivy creepers.
As a young child there was so much to do. Discovering the bugs and bees, learning of the many different types of wildlife and plants, and even to ponder the feelings from the first wee kiss with the shepherds daughter. Searching the burrows in the ground, fishing for eels in the lake, and for trout in the local streams.
Becoming aware of the multitude of flowers, large and very very small, not only down amongst the weeds and grass, but up in the trees as well. And the seeds and berries – just the intensity of it all. I found that the more I became ‘still’, while sitting out on the grassy hillside, or down in the tangle of weeds and creepers, beside the shaded pond, the more the environment absorbed me into itself, and the deeper I penetrated its depths to become one with it, and I had not physically gone anywhere else. It is my home.
And I take it so much for granted, even with the sticky gum from the trees, and the stinging nettles and prickly thistles amongst the grasslands.
There are just so many different types of birds; the skylarks so high in the sky that they are clearly heard but hard to be seen, the morning birds and their sounds; tuis, bellbirds and magpies amongst others. There are the shining cuckoos with their striped breast and their obvious song when they seasonally return near to the end of winter, laying their eggs in another birds nest, and leaving those other birds to rear their chicks!
Many types of smaller birds, always so very busy during the seasons of the year. Seasons for building nests of varying types from bits of straw or twigs, moss, feathers, and even of mud. Back and forth they go, adding to the nest bit by bit. And then laying the eggs, and the babies hatching from them. Back and forth again, many times a day, bringing the worms and beetles or other crawlies to feed up their children on until they leave the nest. And all the while on the alert for predators, having to use various tactics to distract the predators from their offspring.
I observe the ducks and swans on the lake, with their territories and mates, and as well the hawk, continually prowling for a wayward error from its prey. It is as though the hawk is needed to keep wildlife on guard and alert. They dive-bomb the flightless ducklings which they find in the open, and after the little floaty fluffy things get exhausted from diving in their effort to avoid the swooping menace, they are plucked off the water to be dined upon.
The hard to find nests of the stilts and many other birds, and then the newer birds on the scene like the spur-winged plovers, whose eggs blend like the stilts into the environment as though they do not exist. The kingfisher nest occasionally found in holes on a steep little bank near the water, the booming bittern, and there is just so much more.
The rabbits with their warning thumps on the ground. And the hares and other creatures that are always so very aware of changes in the bird conversations and sounds. So they know well in advance where I am before I come into their sight.
My grandchildren spend many days doing the same, exploring, discovering, and learning. Tipping over stones in creeks, or pulling the bark off old half-decayed trees to uncover all the different wormy things, and squiggly things with multiple legs, now rushing for the cover of darkness. The frogs – oh my gosh, the frogs and the sound of them, particularly noticeable during the nights in the mating season, with the calls of thousands of them together in unison, rising to a loud crescendo, and then dying away again only to be repeated in continuous waves.
I do just wish the children could sit still a moment though, to watch and observe more. To watch nature come to them, as they did after all, create it. But as they get older, the boys buy camouflage gear – “Why the need?”, I ask as I shake my head in bewilderment, and then they go out hunting. ‘Hunting’ makes the objective difficult, chasing things away or into hiding. It does seem so hard for them to be still and to realise.
Watching the wildlife and fishes, of how they show me with their movements in advance of the changes about to happen in the weather. The eels prior to migration, and then also the cattle with the changes in their feeding habits. They graze the faces of the hillsides in their daily patterns, resting from near to mid-morning until mid-afternoon. If they don’t settle to rest, or begin eating earlier than usual, it is very noticeable, as though an alarm, as they continue eating to store up in themselves a reserve, an energy to carry themselves through whatever impending cold or rain they are sensing.
I look out the window as I write this. It is not yet mid morning and there are 30 large, two year old steers sitting peacefully near the garden fence. It is warm weather, and I can tell looking at them that there will be no big weather change for several days. If a change had been due, and If necessary, I would move them to better pasture before it occurs. And so endlessly these patterns continue.
There is no need to carry a wristwatch or similar, for clock-time does not fit in well with nature. Everything works just fine as it is. I am made of mother Earth itself and naturally tuned to work with the environment, to breathe and live the seasons.
My parents were good-natured, peaceful, and hard working, and kind to anyone that came by, and I did not really want for anything. With stories read to me at bed time, or in front of the open fire in winter, a few jig saw puzzles and toys (normally of wood, tin or of some metal, – no plastic then) for the wet days. There were no town or city noises, no streets, street lights or next-door neighbors.
Television was unheard of, but today the bugs, animals and wildflowers of nature tend to be learned more by intellect from the screen, rather than by experience. A vast vast difference, as understanding from experience is far greater than and more powerful than by intellect alone.
The weather man tries to tell me what my weather will do, but it is not as accurate as what is determined from the animals, and I see things so logically and simply. For why should one expect that a trout would take a fly, when the cattle are sitting down resting? …
Ⓒ Gary Batchelor – December 2019. Not for resale