from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 16 December 2013

this wild and precious december day: birds, and a small ra(n)t

Inside: candle, Hilliard Ensemble with saxophonist Jan Garbarek, and Mnemosyne, lunch. Outside a flurry of tits and a woodpecker at the feeder, bands of rain like twisters over the valley, a buzzard's mew in mist, and a huge slew of starlings like a 3D fractal, moving, morphing, inside-outing – each bird in tune with 7 of its neighbours. This precious life!

I love the way the valley's colours are deep-saturated with winter and rain: ochre, peat, umber.  On the A377, the road I would take for so many years to my old family home up near the coast, the willows will be blazing red and gold now, in December.

I move outside. The buzzard with its mew has called to it a mobbing crow, then another. Their harsh shrieks call up, in dozens, other corvines – maybe 100, all harrying one buzzard – straking, strafing. This is hypocrisy – the buzzard's own diet consists of fewer young chicks than the corvine family's own diet; and it's not nesting season. I pause to watch, rather wishing I could call them off, like dogs – I so love the way buzzards simply yield rather than fighting back aggressively – tilt and flip gently, evade, duck, dive. I have learned so much from buzzards over many years now; not least since I have visited buzzard medicine, or even 'become' buzzard in shamanic/trance journeying over decades. I can feel the thrust and lift of air in my armpits, know how to tilt my wings to catch the thermals, sharpen my vision to pick out what's important, know that my strength lies in being able to attack and choosing not to.

I have a soft spot too for the corvines (Ted Hughes caught crow so well in his poem-sequence of that title: there's quite a lot of info online). There are the enigmatic ravens with their deep bark, high above; the carrion crows, glossy and alert; the rooks, strutting around comically; the jays with their wonderful plumage, the 1000s of acorns they bury for winter and their phenomenal memory of where they've buried them, and their by-far-the-loudest-and-most-raucous voices in the woodland; the delightful cheeky jackdaws with their blue eyes and acrobatic enthusiasms for playing with the wind; and the magpies have the most astonishing and very tender range of pillowtalk conversations up in their nests. Then there's the rare and elusive red-billed red-legged chough, emblem of the Cornish nation – my own – cliff-dwellers, on the edge in every way but not yet given up.

I was devastated to read in Saturday's Guardian that barn owls in England are down to 1000 breeding pairs, only, instead of the expected 4000. Multifactored reasons, of course, as always: loss of barns for nesting; poor weather; masses killed, especially youngsters, hunting alongside roads and rails on verges. What I didn't know was that 91% of corpses examined showed up rat poison (young rats being one of their food sources, but of course voles, mice etc are quite likely to pick it up too). This makes me so angry, so sad. It will of course be partly agricultural, but it will also be domestic. 

While I know that rats, like many creatures, carry disease, SO DO HUMANS! And yes I know that they take chicks – so do humans. And TM told me this morning that it's quite likely that the bubonic plague in England in the C14th was only in part down to rats (I believe it's a kind of race memory that drives our dread of rats in England): it seems that actually it was at least in part brought by the Genoese traders, who themselves had been infected by Mongolians in an early incident of germ warfare: the Mongolians apparently catapulted their own dead, who had died from the plague (and yes, originally infected by a burrow-dwelling rodent in the area), into the Genoese invading parties. The Genoese, when they left, carried it with them to Europe. (TM told the story very well and quite amusingly, but it's too long to reproduce here.)

Anyway, what I was wanting to say is I am so distressed at our human need to condemn and kill wholesale whatever is inconvenient for us. I hate the demonisation of other species. I remember leading a workshop at a spiritual establishment (where one might imagine people would have known better) where there was sudden hysteria because a rat had been seen near the compost heap in the very spacious grounds. Yes, and?? There's a rat, so it goes, within two yards of each of us – and when did you last contract bubonic plague? I don't mean to completely underplay the role of rats in disease-carrying, by the way, but simply to remind us that as a species we're causing rather a lot more harm to the rest of the planet than any other vertebrate I can think of. Who's killing us off? Well, we're doing it very effectively ourselves...

I was in a position to challenge this by setting an exercise to write from the rat's point of view – after having given a little lecture on the Shadow, which in Jungian thinking is our own over-reactive projection of our own feared, disliked or simply unknown aspects of our own unconscious. (It's always a good key to look at what really gets you going in another – clue as to what needs to be made conscious in ourselves. Here, I suppose self-honesty makes me say well, for me, it's the prejudiced demonising rat-hater, I guess!)

Rant over. And I suppose I should say, in the interests of self-promotion, much as I hate to even mention this name, that my newest novel, The Burning Ground, is available between now and 19th December online to you Kindlers @99p. Sob. Only 99p! From that Mammoth Online Bookseller:

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