I’d rather show you this than a motorway junction! We are at Ashford International station in Kent, where I change trains on my way to work most weeks, and where occasionally we change trains en route to France, Belgium or beyond.
A junction on the motorway does not give chance to stop and stare, as one can at Ashford International. Where is that woman going, I wonder? My son’s friend from school greets me as he goes about his work on the platform.The sparrows chatter over a few crumbs tossed around one of the benches.
The non-stop Eurostar roars through to Paris, a life-changing trip for some. And those alighting from the inbound Eurostar: will they feel welcome on English soil? I once met a former pupil who had completely changed his name – not even using the same initials – to start a new life here with his young lady, forty miles from where he had lived with a neglectful mother and stepfather. Every day is new!
And always there are the anxious ones who do not trust the departure boards or announcements, sometimes with good reason. They ask the platform staff, is this the right train? They get on board, they ask their fellow passengers, is this the right train? If the guard comes by, they ask, is this the right train? On the train they make for the door as soon as their station is announced, unaware it is five minutes or more away.
My friends, there actually is time to stop and stare, so sit back and relax!
Oh, there’s my train coming in: I’d best make sure I ‘join the correct portion of the train’, or who knows where I’ll be! Safe home!
The marsh walk was chosen not because it was flat but because there was a pub at either end. George was home for a few days gardening leave between jobs, his gardening consisting in sunbathing on the lawn that his mother tends with this activity in mind. Stodmarsh feels further from London than 70 miles.
Nonetheless, this is a post-industrial landscape: Chislet colliery lay under here and as land in the Stour valley subsided water and reeds took over. Paths allow dryshod walking from the Red Lion to the Grove Ferry Inn, especially after a dry winter and spring.
Mrs T is shorter than her husband and son, just below the tops of the reeds, so her view was restricted. But she enjoyed the birdsong – including two cuckoos and a booming bittern. The cuckoo is becoming rarer; there were many more when we came to Kent some forty years ago. Bitterns are a different case, no more than birds of passage back then.
Back then the old field fences could be seen from the train, gradually sinking into what was at first seasonal open water but has now become reed beds, favoured home of bitterns. Back then – even just a couple of years ago – we would have expected swallows and martins as well as swifts chasing flies. It cannot be just lack of mud for nest-building that kept them away this year.
Although young Abel will appreciate the birds he gets to know, he may never be familiar with swallows and martins, or even song thrushes. Thank God he has sparrows under his roof.
I don’t need Mr Trump’s climate change denial. I saw how entranced Abel was, aged 18 months, by the song of a robin in a nearby bush. I would like to think that, aged 18, he will enjoy the song of a nightingale from a Kentish bramble patch.
Laudato Si’ – but also – miserere nobis.
George’s picture of the swans -there were two parents and seven cygnets – shows how well the wildlife is hidden out on the marsh.
Suddenly it was time to harvest the apricots, and a bumper crop on our tree this year, branches laden, bending under the weight. Up in the tree is a good place to be, close to the sun-reflecting fruit.
There was plenty to store and plenty to share as jam or ice cream.
Good news, yes, but is it all good news?
As I downloaded this photo from the camera I saw that the one Mrs T took three years ago was taken three weeks later in the month. This year we had blackberries before the end of June.
Even a friend living in a nearby village has seen very few swallows or martins, though numbers of sparrows and starlings seem greater than recent years.
And now the city council propose an ugly new multi-storey car park near the centre of town but also next to a pollution blackspot.
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
This surely refers to knowingly keeping God’s law, rather than blindly following those devised by human law-makers, who may not be supremely wise and well-meaning.
To say or sing Laudato Si’ sounds almost ironic at times, but we must live in hope and not allow ourselves to be cynical. We can start by sharing the apricots and leaving the car at home when we could walk.
Out in the fresh, green world, where thrushes sing so madly, the sweets of the morning are waiting to be gathered – more than enough for all, low at our feet, higher than we can reach, wide enough even for the travelling soul. Joy rushes in with the rain-washed air, when you fling the window wide to the dawn and lean out into the clear purity before the light, listening to the early “chuck-chuck” of the blackbird, watching the pulse of colour beat higher in the east.
Joy is your talisman, when you slip out from the sleeping house, down wet and gleaming paths into the fields, where dense canopies of cobwebs are lightly swung from blade to blade of grass. Then the air is full of wings; birds fly in and out of the trees, scattering showers of raindrops as they dash from a leafy chestnut or disappear among the inner fastnesses of a fir. Pinions of dark and pinions of day share the sky, and over all are the brooding wings of unknown presences.
The east burns; the hearts of the birds flame into music; the wild singing rises in a swelling rhythm until, as the first long line of light creeps across the meadows, the surging chorus seems to shake the treetops.
Mary Webb’s illness caused swellings, which eventually distorted her face. But:
There are many to whom all beauty seems denied; they hunger for it dumbly, unconsciously. Is their life to be a stricken tree, colourless and silent? Surely not. The flawless forms and colours of nature are an especial consolation to those who are oppressed by that dark tragedy, deformity of body or unloveliness of face. How deep is the desolation, when a sad soul looks out anxiously, through eyes that cannot reflect its beauty, watching for an answering smile, and meeting only a look of swiftly concealed repulsion! Startled and ill at ease in the ruinous mortal dwelling, reminded of it continually, this soul leads a life of torture. I saw one of these look from her windows and weep bitterly, finding no comfort. Then a voice came in the long sigh of the dawn breeze:–
“I know, inhabitant of eternity, how strait and comfortless your home is. Go out into my garden and forget. The skies are clear; see where I lead out my sidereal flocks! The tall young larches are dreaming of green; there is moonlight in the primrose woods. There is a fit dwelling for you; go, and be at peace.”
She rose and went, and her laugh came back upon the wind. The leaves do not hesitate to finger and kiss any face, however marred, that looks up into their dwelling. No distortion of body frightens the birds, if the heart within loves them.
One flower of germander speedwell may be the magic robe that clothes us with the beauty of earth. It has the same strength of structure, wonder of tint and mystery of shadow as all natural things. Awakened by its minute perfection, the mind … realises that nature’s beauty can never be perfectly grasped.
Ceasing for a time to question and strive, let us dare to be merely receptive.
Mary Webb, 1881 – 1927, the Shropshire poet and novelist, suffered from Grave’s Disease, a thyroid problem that is much better understood and treated today. The introduction to her book, The Spring of Joy reveals:
One to whom life was pain, and death a charnel-house, came under cloudy hollows stained with sunrise into a country pleasant as lilac in the rain. Wandering down aisles of birdsong to the brink of a river, she drank where the ousels and the stars had been before her, and found comfort and joy. So she brought back in the palm of her hand for those in need of healing a few drops of the water which sparkled and held the sky.
Some readers may find her writing sentimental, but it is nevertheless authentic and from the heart, and Franciscan in its living in God’s Nature. An ousel is a water blackbird.
Maria Montessori was one of the greatest Italians of modern times. Young Abel makes me think of this passage from The Child in The Family. Montessori tells how a baby wants to be at table with the family.
If we are at dinner and the child is in another room and he weeps because he is left out, we have withheld the respect we would have given to an adult. We ought to be pleased by his presence and keep him near us. Do not worry about food hurting him – ignoring him is an offence. p52.
We could also read this paragraph:
Those who do not care brutally shove the spoon into the child’s mouth – but observe and the child will try to help himself. One must simply sacrifice cleanliness to the justifiable impulse to act. The child will perfect the movements in time. When he has satisfied the need to help himself he will let the adult help. p124-5.
Young Abel was so keen to help himself on the occasion of this photo that he had spoon in one hand, fork in the other, and also a special spoon for the helpful adult. (Al fresco dining meant pickings for Robin and Mrs Tittlemouse, eager to clear up Abel’s mess.)
So why does the Church refuse to give the Eucharist to baptised babies? What message does that give them; and the rest of us? Are we not withholding respect? Abel’s mother as a baby used to extend her hand when carried up to the altar, and when I was little, one parent would often stay with the little ones in the bench and await the other’s return before receiving the Sacrament themselves.
Beware of counter-signs; often they are so established that we never see them; disrespect of children runs deep in Church and Society.
From Will Turnstone’s personal blog.
Between 7.30 and 9.00 in the morning must be the noisiest time of day but most people have to filter out the noise, just to do what we have to. Young Abel often draws our attention to sirens, trains and loud machinery, but I did not need his advice this morning.
The Builder’s Dog is with us and needed his morning walk. Today he was sniffling round a shrub when I heard a woodpecker drumming somewhere nearby. Not that I saw him, but it’s a pleasure to hear him. Trying to place him – somewhere in the treetops – without binoculars was futile, but it made me aware of the din around me, even though I was some yards from the nearest road. The school playing field was being mown with a tractor and a mower; the main roads and inner ring road were still very busy, but a motorbike and ambulance stood out. There were trains and planes, and children winding down to go indoors for the morning.
But I could still hear the woodpecker. And the chaffinch and the blackcap … and the herring gulls and rooks overhead.
Sometimes we must dive into whatever silence is around, even if no-one else can hear it, even if only for a moment. Oh, still small voice of calm.
But now it’s back to work! 1 Kings 19.12.
The Builder’s Dog in his Hi-Vis coat was wary when he entered Will’s place. Were those Chihuahuas around? Nor scent nor sound nor scratch marks on the gate. All was well, except that he had a stretch of time, impossible to contemplate, without his mistress who could not take him on her sunshine holiday.
The food was good – exactly the same as at home, except for treats like scraps of Sunday dinner. The walks were OK, except that the Mistress was not there and Will and Mrs T avoided walking down BD’s home street. But the park and Abbot’s Hill were full of smells that humans were utterly unaware of.
It was coming down Abbot’s Hill one evening that BD gave Will his reward. Or was it the other way around? An urgent, complicated overlay of scented canine communication required close study, and BD was pleasantly surprised not to feel the lead jerk. Will, too, was fixed to the spot. He was listening to a Blackcap, perched in a suburban Japanese cherry tree, singing his heart out, ignoring the human and dog below.
As Will said later, there’s always something to be grateful for. And he enjoyed another little link as he researched this post: according to Wikipedia, the Blackcap’s song provided the theme for Saint Francis when that famous bird lover Olivier Messiaen wrote his Opera, Saint François d’Assise. Not just any bird then!
Blackcap by Ron Knight
As we crossed the cloister at the Baptist College in Manchester, Luther King House, we heard a chuckle from the top of a leafless tree. A pair of magpies were building their nest in a fork of the upper branches. The structure was at an early stage, just a few twigs, but if they decide to finish the nest it will have a dome and provide good shelter for the young ‘pies as they grow quickly into adulthood.
the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God.
It was Mrs T who made the connection that it was Valentine’s Day, the day the birds are said to marry.
There was a blackbird’s nest on top of a short brick pillar along the cloister. That hen bird must have found her place just above head level on this busy, sheltered corridor to be very safe.
In nearby Whitworth Park we saw parakeets who clearly considered themselves wild members of the local fauna. We’re used to them in Kent but did not expect to spot them so far North!