We were hanging the bat box at L’Arche’s Glebe garden in Canterbury, and to do that Vince had to saw through two thin branches. I was footing the ladder, keeping still and keeping him safe.
Drips fell onto my hand as he handed down one of the branches: no rain, this was sap, the sycamore’s lifeblood. This is an invasive maple, and remembering the maple syrup farm I once visited in a Canadian March, I licked my hand. It was sweet!
I don’t think we are about to start tapping the sycamores, but Vincent recalled tasting birch syrup, and very tasty that was, he said.
Working at the Glebe, working with flowers, we have ample opportunity to appreciate the little things. Like this snail, this ‘designer snail’ as Anne called it. Those stripes would make this shell a treasure if found on a Red Sea beach, but this snail was in the wrong place, eating the wrong plants …
I remember, years ago, reading an article where a science teacher was desperately trying to account for the very different shell patterns of this species in terms of Darwinian evolution; some even have no stripes at all. She seemed to be saying that they must be of some evolutionary benefit or they would not still exist.
Well, the humans at the Glebe admired the creature. But don’t tell the Jehovah’s Witnesses that we called it a designer snail!
Meanwhile, today we celebrate Saint David, patron of the smallest city in the Commonwealth, the Welsh-born missionary to the Welsh, who told us to be faithful in the little things. Even the beauty of snails. Perhaps it is an evolutionary advantage to be admired by humans?
The joys of late winter: some lover of nature, humanity, God or all three has set a clump of snowdrops between the fast Eurostar line to France and the old mainline from Ashford to Folkestone. Just a glimpse as we speed by, most will not notice, I too often miss them – but there they are, and beautiful they are, even from a distance. A promise that will be kept.
These others, with their rubbish, were at Aylesham station, not far away. No chance of a meaningful photo of the ones beside the Eurostar line.
And soon, in Wales, the daffodils will be out along the roads. Some say the lily of the field in Matthew 6:25ff was a daffodil. I’m sure Saint David would approve of that exegesis!
Happy feast day tomorrow!
A version of this post has appeared on the Will Turnstone blog.
So we left Aberdaron. May we, like R.S. Thomas, look into the water (in this case a holy well) and
‘… Ignoring my image I peer down
to the quiet roots of it, where
the coins lie, the tarnished offerings
of the people to the pure spirit
that lives there, that has lived there
always, giving itself up
to the thirsty, withholding
itself from the superstition
of others, who ask for more.’
Even a walk of twenty paces is a pilgrimage in Aberdaron! We may dismiss the Adam and Eve stories, but we do so all too lightly, for we come from the earth, to dust e shall return, but as Archbishop Arthur Hughes said: From dust, through grace, to glory1
Do we call her the Silver Birch or the Diamond Birch on a grey, drizzly day in January? This is our next-door tree, an exiled Lady of the Woods, her jewels bright against the dark bricks. Open your eyes when you go out, whatever the weather, and Laudato Si’!
I mean a pair of eyes seeing things as for the first time because the ears are listening to a very young person. The gutter down the middle of the footpath through the park becomes a ‘track’, and look! the very young person is driving a train. A pink flower at his eye level draws mine down to see properly.
Burns may have prayed: ‘O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us’, which is a good and noble prayer, but perhaps we could also ask for the gift to see the world as others, especially perhaps as inquisitive, two-year-old others see it.
Which might just mean getting down on our knees occasionally.
As a sick young child I was sent to a prison-like convalescent home in Worcestershire, hoping that fresh air would do me good. My best memories are of celandines and crocus, those early spring flowers; and sticky buds of horse chestnut which the teacher brought in and allowed to open in the classroom. Mary Webb was thinking of these same buds in autumn when they come into prominence.
Curiosity is awakened by the small brown bud at the end of a chestnut twig in autumn, a little farther on than this year’s fruit. How much of the future form is hidden in that small sphere? How much embryo tree is wrapped in its inner cases of wool and velvet? What hint of next summer’s white chalice and green finger dwells in its innermost recesses?
Long before the unfolding of these buds in April, when the downy leaflets uncurl, you can see, if you open one, the compressed cluster – each yellowish ball about the size of a pinhead – which is the future flower, and the faint dawnings of leaves all wrapped in soft wadding.
The thought of the sap forming itself into these marvels, of the skilful, silent artistry going on without hands at the end of every bough and at the heart of every root makes the world a place of almost unbearable wonder.