Tag Archives: birds

7 September: A Cleaner River

 

cormorantAfter yesterday’s post from Margate which mentioned the cormorants in Rye, I thought we could borrow one from Will Turnstone’s more private and occasional journal. This was posted in 2017 after a visit to Lambeth Palace Library, in search of Arthur Hughes.

Today I walked from Waterloo to Lambeth beside a river confined by embankments, with light shipping passing by the Palace of Westminster and cyclists, joggers, dog-walkers and tourists in both directions along the path, not all looking where they were going.

One thing I was hoping to see, but only saw when I wasn’t looking for it – a cormorant. Picture this big bird flying past the Houses of Parliament; I watched from the opposite bank.

In my youth anyone falling in the River might have died from poisoning. They even kept my little brother in hospital for observation after he fell into the Serpentine Lake in the park (and I had to go home on the bus in wet clothes after dragging him out).

There must be enough fish in the river to satisfy those greedy cormorants.

When my mother and I visited my 4 year-old brother in hospital on the following Friday he was happy to say goodbye when the time came. Dinner had arrived – fish and chips and it looked really tasty! He’s now a chef and still very fond of fish; and there are even herons along the Serpentine these days.

The citizen scientists of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds were not least among those who fought and worked to clean up London’s River. Pray that we all may take courage to walk the next steps – and look where we’re going!

RSPB image, see here:

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12 August, Readings from Mary Webb XXIV: The Spirit of the Earth.

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Love me–and I will give into your hands
The rare, enamelled jewels of my lands,
Flowers red and blue,
Tender with air and dew.

From far green armouries of pools and meres
I’ll reach for you my lucent sheaves of spears–
The singing falls,
Where the lone ousel calls.

When, like a passing light upon the sea,
Your wood-bird soul shall clap her wings and flee,
She shall but nest
More closely in my breast.

speedwell

Jewells: ragged robin and speedwell.

 

Is it a pagan superstition to talk about the spirit of the earth, or to imagine that spirit speaking? We are made of atoms and hormones and genes and bones – remember that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.

So get to know and love ‘Mother’ Earth: not just the dust and flowers but the wisdom that has been there since the beginning, sustaining it.  The Spirit of the Earth can be identified with Wisdom, sitting at the Creator’s side as he set about his work. Laudato Si!

The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made any thing, from the beginning.  I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived. neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out: The mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth: He had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the world.  When he prepared the heavens, I was present: when with a certain law and compass he enclosed the depths: When he established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters:When he compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters that they should not pass their limits: when be balanced the foundations of the earth;  I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times; Playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men. 

Proverbs 8:22-31.

 

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3 August, Pilgrimage to Canterbury : The Bells, the Bells!

canterbury bells

Canterbury Bells are a flower in the Campanula family, happy to grow on the chalk, or in this case, on top of an old wall built with soft lime mortar. They are traditionally associated with pilgrimage to Canterbury, growing as they do along the lines of the different Pilgrims’ Way routes making for the shrine of Saint Thomas, including the railway cuttings that were driven through the chalk in the 19th Century.

I should have taken a picture while we were walking our L’Arche pilgrimage but then I should have taken a great many that I didn’t! This silhouette against a grey sky cannot really give us the purple-blue of the flowers, but we can see that the leaves are brown, no doubt due to drought. 2½ metres above the ground is not the most promising habitat when the weather turns dry, but the plants are concentrating their efforts into flowering and seeding themselves.

As we pass by we hear, not Bell Harry or Great Dunstan or the other cathedral bells, but the background roar of the main road. Not a problem for Chaucer’s pilgrims! Nor were they wandering through Kent with earphones blotting out the sounds of the birds, the bells. ‘And I shal clinken yow so mery a belle’, says Chaucer’s Shipman, praising his tale before he tells it. 

Mrs Turnstone first heard a cuckoo this year as June was drawing to a close; we heard a nightingale in the woods on one Pilgrim’s Way – in the daytime, but still as lovely. And the blackbirds of Canterbury or London, or even that city of cities, Venice, would be inaudible wearing headphones.

If, as the catechism says, God made us to know him, love him and serve him in this world, we should take each phrase seriously. Out of body experiences are all very well, but Saint Francis, who received them. was also the author of the Canticle of Creation, in which everything created is called to ‘lift up your voice and with us sing, Alleluiah!’ We can only know, love and serve God in this world.

Laudato Si!’

 

 

 

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July 18: Cowboy

sjc crowEver notice crows
walk like cow-boys,
toes in, wide stride,
tough guys of the garden?

Sparrows scold
from a distant tree – safe
they think. I watch
from the window over
the kitchen sink.

I suppose
crows must hatch, wet, needy
and fragile, like other birds,
but now full grown, I half expect
my crow to chew tobacco and spit,
he seems so full of bravado,
compared to prissy little tits.

Does size mean power?
A swagger, a loud caw?
Animals seem to think so.

SJC

 

 

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30 June, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLVI: How Brother Masseo obtained from Christ the virtue of humility and the gift of tongues.

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The forest seems to have been a good place for the early brothers of Saint Francis to find God and their own true selves.

The first companions of St Francis set themselves with all their might to follow holy poverty with regard to earthly things, and to acquire every other virtue, as the sure means of obtaining celestial and eternal riches.  Brother Masseo, hearing wonderful things of humility, and knowing it to be one of the greatest treasures of life eternal, was so inflamed with a love and desire of this virtue of humility, that he lifted his eyes to heaven with much fervour, and made a vow and firm resolution never again to rejoice until he should feel the said virtue to be firmly established in his soul.

From that moment he was constantly shut up in his cell, macerating his body with fasts and vigils and prayers, weeping before the Lord, and earnestly imploring him to grant him this virtue, without which he felt that he was only worthy of hell.

Brother Masseo having passed several days in this state of mind, as he was entering the forest and asking the Lord, who willingly listens to the prayers of the humble, with cries and tears to grant him this divine virtue, he heard a voice from heaven, which called him twice: “Brother Masseo! Brother Masseo!” And he, knowing in his spirit that it was the voice of Christ, answered: “My Lord.” Then Christ answered: “What wilt thou give in exchange for this virtue which thou askest for?” And Brother Masseo answered: “Lord, I will willingly give the eyes out of my head.” Christ answered: “I grant thee the virtue, and command at the same time that thou keep thine eyes.”

And having said these words, the voice was silent; and Brother Masseo was so filled with the grace of humility, that from thenceforward he was constantly rejoicing. And often when he was in prayer he was heard to utter a joyful sound, like the song of a bird, resembling “U-u-u”, and his face bore a most holy and happy expression. With this he grew so humble that he esteemed himself less than all other men in the world. And Brother James of Fallerone having asked him why in his joy he used always the same sound, he replied gaily, that when in one way he found all good he saw no reason to change it.

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12 June: Precious green spaces in the city.

venice.secret.garden1 (2)

Although we visited Saint Mark’s Baslica, I’m not sure a trip to Venice counts as a Pilgrimage. And it did not take so much preparation for just the two of us. Mrs T’s reading before going to Venice was the guidebook and Salley Vickers’ Miss Garnet’s Angel. I’m not sure which was better preparation for our visit. My book made more sense once we were in the city, and helped make sense of the city. Ellis Peters, best known for Cadfael and all things Salopian, wrote Holiday with Violence soon after the Second World War, during which Venice escaped bombing but endured great hardship. There are glimpses of that poverty, of the rundown buildings, and also of the precious green spaces:

She saw in the drowned shade of the little waterways, narrow between high palace walls, the occasional green of trees looking out from secret gardens, in a city where all the rest of the spectrum was spilt recklessly, but green was jealously hoarded.

Such a secret garden can be seen on the background to this picture. Some of these plots had walls surmounted with a hedge of Canary Ivy, home to blackbirds which had their singing posts nearby to celebrate the dawn and dusk chorus, all the more audible with the lack of motor traffic.

If we make room for nature, nature will move in!

Laudato Si!

 

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26 May: Pilgrimage to Canterbury VI: a memory unlocked.

pilgrims way2

I was talking to Rupert, one of our contributors during Lent, at the L’Arche garden this morning. He reassured me that the walk uphill from Dover on the revised route is ‘doable’ if taken steadily, and he knows most of the potential walkers. It will be somewhat steeper than this section of the Pilgrims’ Way on the other side of Canterbury: use your imagination to see the Cathedral, tucked between the distant hills near the centre of the photo!

I have not walked that steep path since Easter some 40 years ago, when a few of the community were living in north Dover. On Maundy Thursday I was helping Sue, a Jewish assistant from Toronto, prepare for a community Passover meal, when we looked out and saw a thrush hopping around a snow covered lawn. (What’s that bird, Maurice? It looks like our Canadian robin but has no red feathers.)

By Easter Monday all was serene and sunny, so Sue and I decided to walk the footpaths to Barfrestone. We were not expecting to negotiate the construction site for the A2 road, but we got over that and arrived in time for our next shift.

At least this time we will be prepared for the busy A2, which carries traffic aiming for the ferries to the continent. The footpath is safely in a tunnel underneath. And it’s ‘doable’!

For Rupert’s posts, enter ‘Before the Cross’ in the Agnellusmirror search box and you’ll find his reflections and a few other people’s.

 

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3 May: Edward Thomas and the swifts.

ceramic.swallow

HOW AT ONCE

How at once should I know,
When stretched in the harvest blue
I saw the swift’s black bow,
That I would not have that view
Another day
Until next May
Again it is due?

The same year after year—
But with the swift alone.
With other things I but fear
That they will be over and done
Suddenly
And I only see
Them to know them gone.

 

Dear melancholy Edward Thomas had great insight that speaks to our age – a century on from his death. The swifts, those fast-flying birds that truly earn their name, come screaming around our house over the summer, often after a couple of short spring-time visits, broken off when the weather turns too cold for their insect prey to fly.

This terracotta bird flies beside our door; it came from Pieve San Lorenzo, a Tuscan village where brown alpine swifts replaced our black ones, but the ladies who sold it assured me it was their look-alike, the swallow. Now there’s a bird we see less of than we did, and the house martin too. I fear that they will be over and done suddenly, and our children’s children will never have known them, only to know them gone.

I miss the martins that used to live in our street, but my children do not remember their nests. At least we can put up boxes for the sparrows and blue tits and leave the doves and pigeons to nest in peace in our trees. 

And we can watch and pray to discern how we can make our town and country a more welcoming place for these living pest controllers. The first thing is to acknowledge that we are all part of God’s creation, and not throw his gift back at him, but Laudato Si!

 

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25 April: Sing Alleluia!

 

dec 23 pic birds in flightAs she was going out to choir practice one evening in February, Mrs T said, ‘While I’m out you can play any music you like.’ Temptation: I can’t usually get away with Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, for example. Mrs T says that’s fine for the Cathedral, but not for the kitchen or living room. But I was baking and did not want to be changing discs with floury hands, so opted for Through the Night on BBC Sounds.

Brahms was giving me music while I worked when I stopped and listened and paused the music. ‘Our’ blackbird – the one we had last year, with the white chevron on his head – was singing in a neighbour’s fir tree. I left the door open and enjoyed his repertoire until another blackbird’s alarm call silenced him.

I was reminded of my distracted thought at Mass. The image of starlings murmurating, flying in ever changing formation, merged into ‘O filii et filiae’ of Eastertime.  Here are the words. As for musical fireworks, I found the recordings below  – no need to choose between the blackbird and the choir, enjoy them both! And Happy Easter: Christ is risen, Alleluia!

1. O filii et filiae,
Rex caelestis, Rex gloriae,                     morte surrexit hodie, alleluia.

2. Et mane prima sabbati,
ad ostium monumenti
accesserunt discipuli, alleluia.

3. Et Maria Magdalene,
et Jacobi, et Salome,
venerunt corpus ungere, alleluia.

4. In albis sedens Angelus,
praedixit mulieribus:
in Galilaea est Dominus, alleluia.

5. Et Joannes Apostolus
cucurrit Petro citius,
monumento venit prius, alleluia.

6. Discipu lis adstantibus,
in medio stetit Christus,
dicens: Pax vobis omnibus, alleluia.

7. Ut intellexit Didymus,
quia surrexerat Jesus,
remansit fere dubius, alleluia.

8. Vide, Thoma, vide latus,
vide pedes, vide manus,
noli esse incredulus, alleluia.

9. Quando Thomas Christi latus,
pedes vidit atque manus,
Dixit: Tu es Deus meus, alleluia.

10. Beati qui non viderunt,
Et firmiter crediderunt,
vitam aeternam habebunt, alleluia.

11. In hoc festo sanctissimo
sit laus et jubilatio,
benedicamus Domino, alleluia.

12. De quibus nos humillimas
devotas atque debitas

1. O sons and daughters of the King, Whom heavenly hosts in glory sing,  Today the grave has lost its sting! Alleluia!

2. That Easter morn, at break of day,
The faithful women went their way
To seek the tomb where Jesus lay. Alleluia!

3. And Mary Magdalene,
And James, and Salome,
Came to anoint the body, Alleluia!

4. An angel clad in white they see,
Who sits and speaks unto the three,
“Your Lord will go to Galilee.” Alleluia!

5. And the Apostle John
Quickly outran Peter,
And arrived first at the tomb, alleluia.

6. That night the apostles met in fear;
Among them came their master dear
And said, “My peace be with you here.” Alleluia!

7. When Thomas first the tidings heard
That they had seen the risen Lord,
He doubted the disciples’ word. Alleluia!

8. “My pierced side, O Thomas, see,
And look upon my hands, my feet;
Not faithless but believing be.” Alleluia!

9. No longer Thomas then denied;
He saw the feet, the hands, the side;
“You are my Lord and God!” he cried. Alleluia!

10. How blest are they who have not seen
And yet whose faith has constant been,
For they eternal life shall win. Alleluia!

11. On this most holy day of days
Be laud and jubilee and praise:
To God your hearts and voice raise. Alleluia!

12. For which we humbly
dedicated and duly
Give thanks, Alleluia.
Tr. Edward Caswall, apart from vv. 5 & 12.

RSPB recording of   blackbird’s song

Choir of Notre Dame de Paris O filii et filiae

 

Picture from SJC

 

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February 6: And then comes what shall come— Brownings IV.

APRICOT.MAR2017.small

Robert Browning is writing to Elizabeth Barrett, his secret fiancée. She has told him of her dependence on morphine, as prescribed by her doctor, who is reluctant to take her off it, but agrees to do so, ‘slowly and gradually’. Robert is keen for her to get out and about, for she has been housebound for a long time, and offers her some encouragement. He writes this day, February 6, 1846.

‘Slowly and gradually’ what may not be done? Then see the bright weather while I write—lilacs, hawthorn, plum-trees all in bud; elders in leaf, rose-bushes with great red shoots; thrushes, whitethroats, hedge sparrows in full song—there can, let us hope, be nothing worse in store than a sharp wind, a week of it perhaps—and then comes what shall come—”

Elizabeth (‘Ba’) had written of when the drug was prescribed:

I have had restlessness till it made me almost mad: at one time I lost the power of sleeping quite—and even in the day, the continual aching sense of weakness has been intolerable—besides palpitation—as if one’s life, instead of giving movement to the body, were imprisoned undiminished within it, and beating and fluttering impotently to get out, at all the doors and windows. So the medical people gave me morphine, and ever since I have been calling it my amreeta* draught, my elixir,—because the tranquillizing power has been wonderful. Such a nervous system I have—so irritable naturally, and so shattered by various causes, that the need has continued in a degree until now, and it would be dangerous to leave off the calming remedy, Mr. Jago says, except very slowly and gradually.

  • The drink of the Hindu gods, conferring immortality.
 from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846”, available on Kindle or online. 
The Apricot is also in bud now, and will soon flower, leaving us to fret about late frosts killing off the developing fruit. Comes what shall come …

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