Archive for the ‘health’ Category

What a combination! Sunlight and flowers!

I’ve a number of photos of this type. I like to get down on the ground with the sun above and in front of me, and photograph the petals of a flower as the sunlight makes them glow.

It looks like LIFE to me.

And it reminds me of how Richard Feynman once said that trees are made from air, which, of course, shocks you when you hear him say that. We think surely trees are made from the soil? But no, not so much. They capture carbon dioxide from the air, capture the sun’s rays and then they use them to break the carbon dioxide down to get that building block of organic life – carbon, and in the process push out the oxygen they’ve released into the atmosphere. He was asked…but what about water? They need water and that comes up from the soil through their roots. Aha, he said, well, yes, but where does the water come from? The air.

Of course he was exaggerating to make a point because trees are made of a lot more than carbon and water. But did you know that the roots of trees are covered in micro-organisms, little fungi which reach into the tree roots and outwards into the soil. These tiny creatures gather up and transfer into the tree nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, magnesium and other micro-elements which the tree needs to survive and to grow. They also help the roots gather up water and form part of a kind of immune defence against pathogens for the tree. In return the tree transfers up to 60% of the sugars it makes to feed these little fungi.

Amazing, huh?

A real lesson in co-operation, collaboration, and symbiosis. In fact a principle we’d do well to learn from. How can we live better on this Earth? In more symbiotic ways, which turn out to be more creative than our consumption and destruction methods which produce “waste” (something which doesn’t exist in Nature)

Did you know that researchers tried treating some flowers with antibiotics and found that their lovely scent disappeared? Turns out than in many cases the scent of a flower is actually produced by the population of bacteria which lives in it symbiotically.

Huh! Turns out this symbiosis thing can be pretty damn beautiful!

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This year a new bird has taken up residence in a neighbour’s barn. He’s a “Little Owl”, and, yes, that’s his common name. His scientific name is “Athene noctua”. The “Athene” part goes right back to the belief that this owl had a special connection with Athena, and the “noctua” part comes from the Latin for “Minerva”, who was the Roman equivalent of Athena. As such, this little creature has long been held to represent wisdom and knowledge…..pretty much just what we need more of in our world.

I’ve watched him come and go and the other day there noticed he wasn’t alone. Seems he and his mate have a nest up high behind the roof beams at the back of the barn. He’s a pretty wary creature though so it’s been hard to get a decent photo. However, yesterday, looking out of the window of my study, I could see him sitting on a nearby roof. I slowly raised my camera to my eye, taking care not to make any sudden movements which might attract his attention, even though I was inside my house, and he was outside on the roof. I zoomed in, focused, and pressed the button. I can’t say I really clearly saw what I was getting a picture of, but when I uploaded it to my computer I realised he had totally clocked me.

He is looking directly at me!

How does one living creature possess that knowledge? How do we know that we are being looked at? I bet you’ve had an experience where you are sitting reading a book or having a coffee and, suddenly, you become aware that someone is looking your way. You look up, catch their eyes, and they either hold their gaze, or, more commonly, quickly look away. ¬†I’ve often wondered how that works. What are we picking up? It’s not about casting our eyes around the world and just noticing someone else’s direction of gaze. We seem to be able to detect something, and it also seems this is a talent which is not exclusive to human beings.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this experience with an animal. Here’s a photo I took one Spring day when the first lambs were in the fields.

Tell me this little one hadn’t clocked me!


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I find patterns utterly fascinating….wherever they are. Look at this blend of textures and colours on the surface of a tree. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s as if some artist has been doodling or a sculptor has been running his or her fingers through wet clay.

Here’s another one.

This one looks like an infinity loop to me.

It reminds me of some of the cup and ring markings on the rocks in the Kilmartin Valley in Scotland. Here’s a photo I took of one of them.

The cup and ring markings in Kilmartin are really impressive and challenging. As best I know absolutely no-one has managed to explain them. Are they maps? Are the signatures? Are they messages from one person or tribe to another? Are they symbols, and if so, of what? Or are they doodles?

We humans have a particular kind of creativity. We imagine, we play and we make marks. I love all of that. But then I look around me and I see that making marks is embedded in all kinds of natural phenomena. It’s as if the whole Universe just loves to make marks.

We live an a creative universe.

Creativity runs through us the way our blood runs through us, the way our breath runs through us, the way we are infused by the streams of materials, energies and information which run through us, the way our spirit runs through us.

We react and we act. We engage and we respond. Catabolism and anabolism (biological terms related to our metabolism….how we break down materials which we consume and fashion them into the things we need to live) are at the core of our being.

Just by living, we create, but isn’t it such a thrill when we create consciously?

Isn’t it such a delight when we stumble across the works of creation?



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When I lived in Cambusbarron in Scotland I looked out of the window each day and saw Ben Ledi. I quickly realised that this mountain looked different every day, so I started taking photos of it. I took a LOT of photos.

I was constantly amazed how my usual experience was not of looking at the same scene every day, but seeing a different scene.

I know, maybe you are thinking, but it’s the same mountain. It’s just the clouds and the light which is changing….

But the mountain doesn’t exist by itself. It exists in a place and a time. I can’t see the mountain disconnected from the world in which it exists. That wouldn’t be real, would it?

I think the world is like this.

Absolutely everything is connected. Absolutely everything exists in webs of contexts and environments.

It changes moment by moment. Everything we see, hear, smell, touch and taste changes constantly as the streams of molecules, energies and information flow through, influencing, creating, disrupting.

So, today is always new.

This moment is always new.

We humans are good at doing something called “abstracting”. We isolate a part of what we are experiencing and consider it as if it is separate, disconnected, un-attached. We call these abstractions “things” or “objects”. Or we call them “outcomes” or “results”.

But we have to return our abstractions to reality eventually and then we seem them as less isolated, less fixed, less separate than we thought.

I never felt I could understand a patient by isolating their disease from their life. I never felt I could understand someone’s illness if I considered only the changes in certain cells, organs or tissues.

When we tell our stories, part of what we are doing is describing some connections…..some sequences, some consequences. We describe events, experiences and emotions, and together they combine to make every day, every moment, every place and every relationship, unique.

What did you notice today?

Was there something familiar which you experienced differently today?

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Before the Mulberry tree in my garden gets its leaves each year it casts wonderful shadows on the grass. I was thinking about them when I started to read the book “Penser comme un arbe” (Think like a tree) by Jacques Tassin. He starts out by setting the evolutionary scene where we humans evolved in the trees and reflects on how much the human body is constructed using tree-like patterns. Like the one you can see in this shadow. Our circulatory system which carries the blood all around our body branches and branches just like this, splitting into ever smaller arteries and capillaries, then coming back together the way a river gathers all the streams which feed it, along ever bigger veins until it connects the blood to the heart and the lungs again.

Our lungs are like this. Branching first into left and right, then into the different lobes, down the bronchi and bronchioles to open out like bunches of grapes in the alveoli.

Trees are the lungs of the Earth, cleaning the air of pollutants, gathering up CO2 and emitting Oxygen. Interesting to think of the respiration of a person and the respiration of the planet using similar patterned structures (OK, up to a point, the trees don’t have lobes and alveoli, but their leaves provide the maximum contact with the air, just as our alveoli do that job too.)

Our lymphatic system, so crucial to our body defences uses the same “arboreal” pattern, just like the circulatory system.

Our nervous system too, with the continuously branching structures of nerves and the way each neurone in the brain reaches out to contact thousands of others.

There is something magical about our relationship with trees, isn’t there? It really does us good to be amongst them, to look at them, to contemplate them, to smell and touch them. The Japanese “forest bathing” has been studied to show the beneficial effects on our immune systems of substances emitted by the trees in the forest.

Jacques Tassin talks about studies which show the beneficial effect on children with ADHD of spending some time in the forest, and, perhaps even more surprising, the calming effects on the heart rates of people contemplating images of trees…..in other words, we get a benefit from just looking at them, even when we can’t be physically present with them.

So, I thought I’d share a few photos I took in a Cedar Forest just north of Aix en Provence.


Finally, look at the tree right in the middle of this shot. The sign by the path was labelled “Candelabra Tree”.

Do you have any favourite trees?

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You know these seeds which helicopter down from the trees? Strangely one-winged and decidedly “wonky” looking?

Well, maybe humans wanting to make something which would be carried on the wind wouldn’t design it like this, but, hey, Nature’s designs are the best!

So, sometime, maybe last autumn, this little seed spirals its way from a tree, who knows which tree, and tumbles and flies and skips and zigzags its way through the air, to land here, on the forest floor. Then, a few months later, who knows how it knows, it wakes up, yawns and starts to stretch, feeling that Spring is around the corner.

And look at it now!

Out of the pod uncoils a long stem, probing down through the moss to find nutrients, and begin to grow itself into a tree!

I mean, do you ever stop and consider something like this?

Have you any idea how it happens?

We can’t even tell if an individual seed is alive or not, is viable or not, until it wakes up and begins to develop. Isn’t that incredible? That we can’t even tell if it alive or dead? Nobody can.

Then how do the cells start to divide and “differentiate”? That means start to develop into the different cells which will produce all the different parts of the tree.

One of my most favourite and most memorable lecturers at Edinburgh University was the Professor of Anatomy, Professor Romanes. He used to start a lecture with a box of coloured chalks and one of those giant rotating blackboards which gave you one screen after another. By the time he finished he’d produced what were no less than works of art showing each different kind of cell, each different kind of tissue, in a different colour. We were transfixed.

He gave a series of lectures on embryology taking us through the various stages of development of a foetus from a fertilised egg cell to a ready to be born baby. I remember thinking at the time, and those thoughts are still with me, “how on earth does that happen?”

I mean, how on earth does a single fertilised cell divide and multiply and differentiate to produce all the organs, all the tissues, all the parts of a human body, and every one of them in the “right” place?

It utterly amazed me.

It still does.


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Coronavirus, epidemic, pandemic, deaths, school closures, travel bans, hospitals overloaded, patients in the corridors, floods, fires, plagues of locusts, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, snowstorms, climate change, immigration, deportation, walls, cancer…….

It’s not hard to make a list of threats, to find things to be afraid of.

Every headline screams – be afraid, be very afraid!

“Prepare for the worst and hope for the best”

Sounds good advice, huh? Said this way around the first thing to do is focus on the worst, then once you’ve done that you might get around to dragging up a bit of hope. Said the other way around you hope first, but what you do, what actions you take, are determined by imagining the worst.

Is this a good way to live?

Imagining the worst every day? Feeling fear every day? Feeling anxiety every day?

Maybe not, huh, but isn’t it just common sense? Isn’t it just “sensible”?

One day I was out walking along the Mediterranean coast and I looked up at this immense grey rocky cliff and a patch of yellow caught my eye. I zoomed in with my telephoto lens and took this photo. Wow! Look at this single, beautiful yellow flower. I was about to write “delicate, little flower” there but stopped myself because “delicate”?? I don’t think so. How did that little seed, blown there by the wind, or dropped by a bird, find enough to sustain it, enough to keep it alive, enough to make it burst out of its shell and stand tall and reach for the yellow sun and spread its petals to say to the world “Here I am” “I am alive”.

People die without hope. I’ve seen it. Many times.

If my mind is flooded with daily fears, if my thoughts swim in an ocean of dread, what kind of day is it going to be today? What kind of life will I experience? And what if this is “my one wild and precious life“? Is this how I want to spend it?

What’s the alternative?

Denial? Delusion? Escapism? I suppose so…..but I think there are better options –

“Hope for the best, and adapt”

If we start the day with hope, make our plans based on hope, then we set off positively. If obstacles appear, accidents happen, luck runs out, then we can adapt. I used to commute from Stirling to Glasgow on the train every day to go to work. I never set off thinking “maybe I won’t get there”. I never went to Queen Street Station after work thinking “maybe I won’t get home”. I never planned for the worst, then got round to trying to hope all the dreadful things wouldn’t happen.

Well, I didn’t always get there, and I didn’t always get home. One day the G8 Summit was held in Gleneagles. The authorities closed Stirling down. No trains. No buses. Motorways blocked. I didn’t get to work that day. One day at work it started to snow. It snowed and it snowed and it snowed. By the time I finished work there were no trains leaving Glasgow. The buses were all full, then there were no more buses because the motorway was blocked. I found a hotel room using my smartphone, stayed the night, and next morning, stopped off in Marks and Spencer for a new shirt on my way to work.

Many, many times, trains were cancelled or ran late. Many times the train would stop in the middle of the countryside for half an hour, or an hour, or sometimes, even longer. The journey wasn’t always as straightforward as it should have been. But I still never set off thinking “maybe I won’t get there”.

So that’s one way……

“Hope for the best, and adapt”

Here’s another –

“Look for the good and adapt”

This isn’t quite the same because it isn’t based on a starting point of hope. It starts with an intention. An intention to seek, to be curious, to be on the look out for what delights, and what amazes. To find “L’√©merveillement du quotidien“. Because it’s always there. There will always be beauty to discover, music to excite or delight, scents and flavours to savour, textures to relish. There will always be acts of kindness, acts of courage and acts of love. You can see that all the time. In how many terrorist attacks do we see the cruelty of one person, followed by the courage, kindness and love of many, many others.

What if every day I look for the good, and when obstacles, accidents, infections, bad luck come my way, I find a way to adapt?

I look at that flower, flourishing (because that’s what flowers do, isn’t it, they flourish?) in what looks like barren adversity, and I think, well, that’s amazing, that’s beautiful, that’s life.




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