Blackbird Singing In The Dead Of The Night…
One of the things that inspires my creative work most of all is Nature. That’s everything, from the dramatic hills and moorland of the Peak District where I live, to the tiniest bugs that I find wandering around in the grass on my lawn (though sticking my toes in an ants’ nest the other week didn’t generate quite so much affection!!). I can’t get enough of the green stuff and having finally escaped many years of town centre life a few years ago, I’m not sure I could ever go back to that now.
I grew up in a quiet village called Prestbury on the edge of the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire and spent my childhood running around in fields and woods. One of my most treasured childhood memories is of standing spellbound on the edge of the trees as I watched a wild deer grazing in the sunlight that had made its way through a glossy canopy of Beech leaves. The magic and tranquillity of that scene kept me returning to that place throughout my life, right up until I left the area.
The trees in that wood -Queen’s Wood – became friends, along with their fellows up across the common on Cleeve Hill where I would walk for miles, just feeling the wind on my face and marvelling at the diversity of plants and birds and other life. I went there when I felt full of summer, when I felt full of rain and when I felt full of fog. The hill met me with its own moods and faces, from blazing sun, to storms, to mists so thick I couldn’t see my hand in front of me – I discovered that wandering through thick mist with invisible sheep can be quite unnerving! We accepted each other as we were and without question.
One of the reasons I came to feel so at home with Nature is because nothing in those woods or across that hill was trying to be anything other than what it was. An Oak tree was happy to be an Oak tree, a Skylark was happy to be a Skylark, a Foxglove was happy to be a Foxglove. They grew or lived where they were, as they were, existing together in an effortless harmony, and that was enough.
Nature showed me an honesty, a nakedness that came without pretentiousness or illusion or contrivance. In this way I think she can liberate us to see ourselves in the same way. We can relax. There is no expectation, no demand that we fulfil a role, that we look or feel or think a certain way. Nature doesn’t look at us and tell us we need to lose a few pounds or that we need a new car or that we are not wearing the latest fashions. She doesn’t judge us because we don’t earn as much money as the couple down the road, because our hair doesn’t have added volume or because we might not think ‘we’re worth it’. She simply welcomes us into the fold, accepts us as if we have always been there alongside the Oak and the Skylark and the Foxglove; which of course we have! A human being: just another creature of the Earth.
All this is a sharp contrast to our modern lives which surround us with images of how we should look, how we should live, what we should aspire to, what our dreams should be. Consumer society can encourage us to feel marginalised or ‘unsuccessful’ if we don’t agree with its opinion and go our own way. For too many people, our towns and cities can become profoundly alienating and lonely places, driven by consumer values and assignations of worth that can be hard to understand.
Of course there can be many positive aspects to urban living. Many people find it enriching and invigorating. Its pace can be exciting. It can be full of culture and entertainment. There is always something interesting or stimulating to go and see or get involved in. I enjoy many of those things just as much as anyone else, but I have also experienced the loneliness and alienation. My relief was the green places that called out to me over all that noise and frantic movement.
One day a few years ago, when I was still living in a town centre, I was standing under a Holm Oak that I had befriended and liked to spend time with. The tree was near the edge of a park and a main road so it was not a particularly peaceful spot. However, I had come to love this tree into whose branches I could climb to sit in its coppiced hollow.
On that particular day I looked around and saw a blackbird sitting in the branches of a neighbouring Sycamore. It was singing its heart out though I could not hear it above the noise of the traffic. In fact nobody apart from me was paying this bird any attention whatsoever! Still it sang with everything it had because even there, in the midst of the noise and grime, it persisted in doing what came naturally.
That little bird encouraged me to listen to my inner voice and let it start to speak, regardless of everything that was drowning it out at that time, regardless of the fact that nobody but me was listening. I started to understand what was important to me and what really didn’t matter. Nature called me out of the town and reminded me that I needed her peace to remember my own voice; I needed her acceptance to anchor me in my sense of who I am; and I needed to reconnect with what is real and constant and grounding.
Land Sky & Sea by Damh the Bard – this song says it so well…
(video by VlogAndersonEnrique )
It is all too easy to absorb those external voices that tell us what we should be and believe that they are our own. I know I can still slip into that so easily. I can find myself grumbling if I step on the scales, or look in the mirror, or fruitlessly attempt to go shopping for trousers -I swear I am going to abandon trousers altogether at some point, though skirts aren’t very good for climbing trees which could be a problem !
At other times I look at our kitchen and think that it looks horrifically out of date and want to badger the landlord for a new one. Then I ask myself why trees, like the ones I love to walk amongst, should be cut down to replace something that is still functional or mendable just because I want to be more modern. I can’t answer that question in any way that remotely satisfies me so I have covered the kitchen cupboard doors in pictures and inspiring quotations instead .
At still other times I find myself asking whether I should just surrender to my unsettling sense of financial insecurity and go after a full-time job that would pay me a bigger wage but which would take away the time I have to devote to my creative work. I have stuck to my part-time hours and resisted, but every so often the voice is there whispering insidiously: “if you had a ‘proper’ job and more money then you could do all the things that lots of other people do: you could have your own home and a reliable car and maybe a proper holiday; you could worry less about how you’re going to replace something when it breaks; you could buy nicer clothes and nicer food and make your home prettier. Most of all you would fit in better, you’d be more like other people, more ‘normal’, wanting the same things and living the same kind of life.”
Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that there’s anything necessarily wrong with having these things. I’m not criticising anyone who has them or wants them (though I can’t meekly accept the kind of greedy consumerism that wrecks the planet without thought or care). I don’t believe that material comfort and being true to yourself have to be mutually exclusive. In fact I’m really hoping they’re not!! It’s just that I know those things could never make me happy if the price of having them was to give up that true self and my real dreams; that’s the dreams that come from inside me and not the pages of a glossy magazine. So I choose to keep space in my life for art and music and poetry. I keep space for listening and feeling and greening. It’s still not as big a space as I would like, but every day I’m working on it. Every day I make that space grow a tiny bit.
“…A dream is never wasted, a dream it has such power,
For when its seed is watered, that dream becomes a flower…”
(lyrics from ‘Cinderella’ by Beth Rees)
Following my heart, however ineptly at times, fills me up more than anything I could buy in a shop or any lifestyle that I could be sold. Life is good and I am okay. Just the way I am. The way Nature intended.