It's flocking time of year. It's an astonishing sight, a dark spiralling twisting mass of starlings, or pigeons, moving in such synchronisation (in the case of starlings, each bird is in touch with its 7 immediate neighbours).
A white egret is back upstream, away from the littorals, immobile in the lightning-struck oak above the brook like a hunched dwarf angel.
The winter birds are here now after their migrations: lapwings, fieldfares, redwings, thrushes, blackbirds. The avocets will be back on the Exe and the Tamar.
Night after night, two owls call across the house; yesterday at dusk a snipe startled from the hedge a metre away from Dog and self.
In the middle of the current world tragedies, I'm also a little brokenhearted to hear that 6000 ducks are to be culled after an outbreak of avian flu in the north of England. Ducks, those wild creatures at home in three elements, should never be farmed intensively, without access to water or flight. (Thing is, most people who eat duck have this romantic view that they've somehow been wild-caught or sweetly gathered from where they peck around on a village green with a pond, whereas most of them are factory-farmed.) And of course NOTHING should be farmed intensively.
I'm aware I've gone to ground. Thank you to those of you who still visit. I'll be back with more of a flow soon. I'm still feeling fairly wordless; and also am sitting in one of those liminal places where my path could fork via one of many ways. I quite like liminal, and am doing much better these days at just holding still, letting things unfold, instead of feeling I need to push every river, whether it's going my way or not...
And right now, my going to ground is a few days writing, overlooking the sea. Don't pity me too much.
Speaking of going to ground: yes the bloody foxhunt. Illegal. And alive and thriving. When I was younger, I crossed swords with the hunt a number of times, on my part always in a non-aggressive but I suppose obstructive way (unblocking earths that they'd blocked up to remove a fox's bolt-hole; leading their hounds astray with aniseed), and received their retaliation.
The last time was when the harriers, on foot with hounds, were pursuing one of 'our' hares. I found a fury I didn't know I possessed; and received a polite apology from the headman, and an assurance that it wouldn't happen again. It hasn't; not in our neighbouring fields, at least.
Foxhunting happens frequently here, though. It's usually a Tuesday. It caught me off-guard last Saturday to hear the foxhounds in the valley; or rather, Dog alerted me. Dog is always delighted when the hunt comes; perhaps because I find such depths of outrage and rage in me that I forget to stop her barking (and in fact hope it might prove a distraction to the hounds). Plus she gets an extra walk.
|Ash on full alert ready to see off any foxhound|
So I walked towards the stile, and the whipper-in (or whoever) came cantering towards it and me, hounds around him. We politely greeted each other, and I politely enquired whether he was intending to stay that side of the fence. 'Of course, Madam,' he responded. 'We've laid the trail this side, so the hounds will stay here.' (The official line is that hounds don't chase foxes any more, only false trails. Bred and trained to hunt foxes, I do wonder how they decide, a pack of 20 or 30 hounds, not to set up a fox or chase it, when it appears, instead obediently following a dumbass false trail. Anyway.)
One of my good points, and one of my weaknesses, is that I tend to think the best of people, take their words at face value, and tend to believe what they say, to trust in their better nature. On the whole, people are trustworthy. I've been caught out a few times, though, by not examining further. I forget that sometimes we all say what people want to hear, and that our motivations are not always as clear as we might like. (Naïve, gullible, some might call it.)
So I'd walked back the way I came for a couple of minutes before it occurred to me that, in all that deep gorsey scrub, it would have been difficult to the point of impossible for a man on foot or on horseback to lay a trail of any kind. By that time – guess what – the hounds had poured under the stile, were quartering the field adjacent to ours after a fox, and then had slipped over the old stone bank into our own land.
So then my fury found its voice. Luckily, the fox went to ground, where its home is, in our garden.
Earthing. Now there's a subject.
Any child knows how good it feels to slip shoes off on grass, or paddle in water. I'm continuously astonished at how difficult it is to get adults to take their shoes off outside, even for a few minutes. On all my outdoor courses, one or two do, at my suggestions. Sometimes. Just occasionally, someone does before I suggest it. M, one of the participants on my recent 'Tongues in Trees' day, took his shoes off as soon as we went outside, and kept them off all day with no prompting from me. Mostly, though, people politely (tonight's adverb) pretend not to have heard my words.
I was at a college last month for National Poetry Day. The teacher had agreed that, since it was sunny, warm even, and we were writing about the land, I could take a group barefoot round their mown, manicured, clean, tidy, dry playing field. You wouldn't believe the fuss, especially from the girls. I'm gentle, not coercive; but one girl cried at the idea.
What is this about?
For many years, I earned my living as a shoemaker (entirely natural materials). However, my preferred footwear was always my own skin.
Well, turns out the science seems to back the perception of some of us that walking barefoot is essential to full health. It's not just a sense of rightness about stepping out of our insulated synthetic lives/shoes to join the animal kingdom again. It's not just that it feels good. It's not just that it's a way of reconnecting and reinvigorating ourselves, although it does those things; it's not just about attuning to the earth's magnetic field; and it's not just 'grounding' ourselves in a nice, right-on New Agey kind of way.
Get this: it has numerous health benefits that are measurable, not least in relation to sleep patterns, inflammation, joint pain and circulatory issues.
Apparently, when the body is not in direct contact with the earth, it can carry a positive voltage relative to the Earth, which some people believe is not good for us. Earthing the body redresses the balance by restoring its voltage to zero.
One of the ways in which it works is by enabling a flow of 'good' electrons from the earth into our body. Electrons can help sop up free radicals. 'The idea here is that by connecting ourselves with soil or wet sand or sea, say, we can "suck up" electrons that effectively act as "antioxidants" that can quell inflammation and enhance health,' says Dr John Briffa. Free radicals, he tells us, lack the 'sparks of energy' that are electrons.
'During the normal processes of metabolism the body generates [...] "free radicals",' continues Dr Briffa. 'Free radicals are involved in the process known as inflammation, which is part of the healing process. However, low-grade inflammation throughout the body may lead to pain and other problems in the muscles and joints, and is also believed to be a key driving factor in many chronic diseases including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In short, we want free radicals, but not too many.'
And do check out the PDF that Briffa links to, for further information. There are books on this as well.
But meantime, do yourself a favour and take your shoes off as often as you can for as long as you can bear it, even if that's only 5 or 10 minutes. Yes, I know that in GB it's winter. It'll feel wonderful when you put warm socks back on!