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Archive for July, 2009

What is Aix famous for? Fountains…..

aix

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You’ll be familiar with the idea the “canary down the mine” where a canary in a cage was carried down into the mine by the miners to give them early warning that the air conditions were deteriorating. Well, I just read an interesting variation on that tale in a French magazine called “Nouvelles cles”. The article was about Christophe Perret-Gentil, a biologist who became a herboriste. It began by telling an amazing story of a group walking in the woods in the Luberon very early one morning. They were learning how to recognise the different birds from their songs and to measure the quality of the environment through those sounds, when suddenly all the birds went quiet. Their expert leader, Christophe Perret-Gentil, commented that it was totally unprecedented for this to happen and stated that something serious, some “great event” must have occured somewhere on the planet. The following day, the group were amazed to read about the terrible earthquake in China which had killed many thousands. It had occured at precisely the time the birds fell silent.

Now I don’t know what to make of a story like that. It does remind me of the tales of the animals reacting to the approach of the tsunami before people became aware of it. Fascinating.

However, what actually interested me more was why this man was out counting bird songs in the first place. When he became a “herboriste” he thought about how to identify the plants which were of the highest quality and he knew that it couldn’t be done by measuring levels of anything in a lab. He thought about the indicators of a healthy environment and came up with an idea about birds. It’s quite a simple idea but he’s elaborated it into a detailed scoring system.

He goes to an area where a producer is growing plants which he might want to buy and from early in the morning he notes the range and variety of bird species living there. He has a whole classification system developed, with various levels of significance, from the common, indigent birds, through to the presence of endangered species. The more rare, or more endangered species scoring higher. This gives him an overall assessment of the health of the local ecology. He says it is difficult to actually see a lot of birds, but that it was easy to learn their songs so he charts the health of the environment by identifying the population of birds present as he hears them sing.

There’s something beautifully poetic about this method, and something entirely rational too. At a scientific level it draws together biology, ecology, ornithology, and botany, and at a human level it draws together music, observation, that brilliant human capacity to spot patterns and relate them to each other. Christophe then takes these threads and weaves them into a story which gives him a knowledge about quality, not mere quantity.

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you know, sometimes when things are in perfect balance, it seems like they’re levitating!

balance

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I’ve just read Muriel Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry (ISBN 0-96381-833-3). An extraordinary book.

Here is the paragraph which hit me right between the eyes. Here’s where she hits the nail, squarely, on the head….

If our imaginative response to life were complete, if we were fully conscious of emotion, if we apprehended surely the relations that make us know the truth and the relations that make us know the beautiful,we would be….what? The heroes of our myths, acting perfectly among these faculties, loving appropriately and living with appropriate risk, spring up at the question. We invented them to let us approach that life. But they remind us of our own lives. They offer us a hope and a perspective, not of the past in which they were made – not that alone – but of the future. For if we lived in full response to the earth, to each other, and to ourselves, we would not breathe a supernatural climate; we would be more human.

It’s hard to put this in other words, but her insight into the value of imagination, of being aware of our emotional responses, and of how our relations to ourselves, others and to the rest of nature is the key to becoming fully human is fabulous.

What do we become if we develop such a FULL response to LIFE? Heroes. The heroes of our own myths. And THIS is how we gain both perspective on life and hope for the future.

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eryngium

Eyrngium

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Got up this morning on the first day of my holiday and see what I saw when I looked out of the window…
sunflowers

After breakfast I went for a closer look….

sunflowers

sunflowers

sunflowers

sunflowers

sunflowers

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Completely by chance I stumbled on the Prince of Wales’ lecture on BBC1 last night. You can read the transcript of his speech on his own website.

I liked what I heard. I thought it was an interesting and an intelligent speech. I know a lot of people criticise him for his views but I didn’t find anything significant to disagree with in this speech. Here’s a couple of paragraphs which will give you the gist of his argument……

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, we may well be told that we live in a “post-Modernist” age, but we are still conditioned by Modernism’s central tenets. Our outlook is dominated by mechanistic thinking which has led to our disconnection from the complexity of Nature, which is, or should be, equally reflected in the complexity of human communities. But in many ways we have also succeeded in abstracting our very humanity to the mere expression of individualism and moral relativism, and to the point where so many communities are threatened with extinction. Facing the future, therefore, requires a shift from a reductive, mechanistic approach to one that is more balanced and integrated with Nature’s complexity – one that recognizes not just the build up of financial capital, but the equal importance of what we already have – environmental capital and, crucially, what I might best call “community capital.” That is, the networks of people and organizations, the post offices and pubs, the churches and village halls, the mosques, temples and bazaars – the wealth that holds our communities together; that enriches people’s lives through mutual support, love, loyalty and identity. Just as we have no way of accounting for the loss of the natural world, contemporary economics has no way of accounting for the loss of this community capital.

The idea that we need to re-think our relationship to Nature by accepting we are an integral part of it, rather than separate and apart from it is, I believe, crucially important. The failure to grasp the complexity of life, reducing it to something simplistic, is harming us. We need to be aware of the dangers of radical materialism and simplistic egocentricism.  The mechanistic and consumerist model is failing us, as the economic and environmental crises are revealing.

He is right to emphasise the need for sustainability and diversity rather than consumption and uniformity.

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