JANUARY - "Keep Your Eyes on the Stars and Your Feet on the Ground" Theodore Roosevelt
A new year now. So much has already been said about the one behind us - and I've listened and read attentively. I don't feel any contribution I make will improve anything. I'm devastated that we are no longer a part of Europe - except in the geographic sense. At least six European countries can be identified in my DNA. I'm so proud of that! I thought the world was getting smaller - and then that all changed - and here we are - cast adrift and floundering in rough seas. I think back to the idealistic internationalism of my youth and I feel cheated. But I wanted a perfect world - that was unrealistic - I know that now - but wasn't it good to see a beautiful vision of a fair and equal, flourishing and healthy planet?
The winter night skies have the power to make us forget that there is anything at all that needs to be put right. Look up when the stars are visible - read their stories - they can tell us a thing or two - they've been here a very long time! They set the heavens glistening when the pyramids were being built, when your house was constructed, when Jesus was born, when you first saw your mother. They have guided travellers for ever.
Look down again and there is so much to be done to get the human race back on track. That isn't to say that we should return to how things were before. No one wants to fall victim to misogyny. The slave trail should never again be navigable. The throwaway culture has had its day. But we need to be working alongside Nature, as we did once upon a time, in order to progress. The changes must be made straightaway. Straightaway might just do it - might just put us on the road to healing. There cannot be a delay. And, once the world starts to work as one to preserve its substance, this road to healing becomes the way to understanding each other.
Grand gestures and table-thumping are meaningless now. It's down to you and me - in our gardens, our kitchens, our transport, our grocery shopping, the choices we make to heat and power our homes, the causes we choose to support, the voices we use and the things we say .... The list is much longer!
At the heart of the problem, as I see it, is diminished respect for life forms. This poor regard for our fellow travellers - be they working donkeys, marine life or supporters of the opposing football team, has led to a sound trashing of the earth's precious structure - environmentally, socially and ethically.
It is almost unbelievable how unthinking humankind can be. I'm including myself in this. 2021 is the time to move forward. Don't beat yourself up about the past - apologies are fine in their place - but it's what we do with the rest of the time we have that matters most. Don't let anyone make you feel so guilt-ridden that it paralyses you and prevents you from planting your apple tree.
Winter is a great time to delve further into the natural world. January's bare bones allow us to see the structure of our countryside and gardens. It seems a fair and equal world when it is undressed for our British winter. Makes me think of newborns who come into this world completely naked with no material goods. Each babe is the same. Our nephew was born on the same day as Prince William. At the moment of his birth, he might have been HRH. The joy which a new baby brings should naturally develop into nurturing so that the child may flourish and grow to be a healthy adult. How I wish that each and every parent was able to enjoy those childhood years. Parents are not all able to do that. But that is the world we are aiming for - one where every child has the same chance and every parent has the same quality of education and resources to prepare his/her/their child for a life which is both valued and valuable. Our world will once again flourish and our society will mend, and develop, to offer that child a fair chance.
Earth is an amazing planet - truly beautiful. It has been through pandemics before and has come back from them. At the time of the Black Death, in the mid-fourteenth century, the countryside of Britain became neglected - livestock perished, hedges merged into an unidentifiable wilderness and some creatures were persecuted for the part they were believed to have played in bringing the Pestilence to our shores. Everything recovered. It did this relatively quickly because humans worked with Nature to reconstruct a balanced ecology. Our countryside has not yet obviously suffered because of Covid19 but we have a major problem with Brexit. The government is set to legalise the use of chemicals which are potentially harmful to bees. Europe won't use these chemicals but, now that Britain is no longer a part of Europe, our government is prepared to overlook the welfare of bees. This is so unwise. If we lose any more of our bees we are in danger of losing all our naturally produced foods. And I do not want to walk in a countryside that is devoid of flowering plants.
In the new year, the first flowers we look for are the snowdrops and winter flowering aconites. The winter jasmine has been flowering against the garden wall since before Christmas. Next month we will look for crocus, muscari and Lenten roses. These progress through daffydowndillys, king cups and tulips to buttercups and orchids to foxgloves, lupins and poppies to calendula, to....... The list is endless through the year and, early in December 2020, there were still some buttercups and tiny pockets of heather flowering as we walked the dog in our northerly woodland. I can't leave out the many exquisite flowering shrubs and trees around us - in the wild and in the garden - the red may, the lilacs, the rowan, the fruit trees - and I am crazy for the first wild roses. Roses are lovely flowers and are available in degrees of wonderful complexity but, for me, nothing can beat the glamorous simplicity of the dog rose. The blush-pink and white of the petals, the striking gold middles and the delicate, pure fragrance make them magic flowers. The spiteful little thorns, which help the plant to climb, remind me that nothing's perfect! Nor should it be! There are still a few hips on one of our wild roses and they look stunning against the grey stone wall. There are fewer each time I walk down the garden path. Birds maybe? Perhaps they'll become self-sets?
All year long we are walking amongst these jewels of Nature - there may be few in January but the sinewy trees, stripped of their leaves, and the plants, such as the ice plant, which have died back but I've left because they give interest to the winter border, make up for the reduction in colour.
At the beginning of this second strange year there is much to look forward to - all of the above and many, many more. Last year I planted iris in the pond - I'm really excited about the prospect of those in flower. I have new clematis and a number of new outdoor potted plants which I'm coddling over winter. It will be good to see the old friends blooming again and to welcome the relatively new kids on the block. So much hope!
The tawny owls will call as early as January and the doves coo all year long. The tits seep-seep to each other and the siskins sing sweetly. Sometimes a blackbird will warn of rain and the robins are always asserting themselves while the starlings and sparrows squabble at the feeding station - what a racket! Geese call to each other overhead. But it is in February that the dawn chorus starts to bubble up, like an overwintering creature from the bottom of the pond, just getting a sniff of Spring. It builds up, morning on morning, until the sound is divine so that it has brought tears to my eyes. Through Spring and early in Summer, the birds are attracting their future partners and defending their chosen territories so there is a great deal of musical brinkmanship going on. This gives us the glorious dawn chorus and coincides with the return of our summer birds. We think immediately of swallows and martins and the shrieking swifts but there are many other, more timid birds, such as the grasshopper warbler which skulks in the undergrowth and is able to throw its voice like a ventriloquist does - just to keep us on our toes! They don't seem to be here for long enough before it is time for them to leave ahead of our cold season. But then we will await the arrival of our winter visitors such as the fieldfares and the redwings - stripping a rowan of its deep orange berries in a very short time. They're still here - now!
I'd be a cuckoo if I didn't settle and build on what is around me. If Covid19 has taught us anything, it surely must be that we are equal to other humans in all places and conditions. The old and the challenged, particularly, are potentially endangered by this cruel virus whether they live in a British slum or a Mumbai mansion. It seems wise therefore to get on with what we have, where we are, and love the planet we live on, embracing all its people - with whom we share the flora and fauna in their season. I, for one, don't want to be a parasite. I've no intention of leaving others to do my dirty work. I'm rolling up my sleeves (a bit chilly right now for this!) and doing my bit.
A little cuckoo story for you - to raise a smile for 2021. When the children were small, they were obviously siblings - all had a look which marked them out as children of their parents. Our lovely, elderly coalman would glance across at the children as they played and remark, nine coal deliveries out of ten, "There's bin no cuckoo in that there nest!" I stopped blushing after a while!
2021 may turn out to be the year this world has been waiting for. I blush in Hope and Humility!