Posts Tagged ‘nature’

From above

I haven’t been on a plane for a long time. However, here’s a photo I took a few years back. I looked out of the window just before dawn and what struck me was how solid the clouds looked. They look like a landscape on the surface of the The Earth. There even seems to be a deep ravine as if there is a river flowing far below, down in the dark depths of that gap.

Of course, I know that these clouds are simply water and that if I were to try to step on them I’d fall straight through. And I know that the surface of the Earth is not like that. I know that when I stand in my garden, for instance, I am standing on solid ground.

But this last year of extreme weather events in a wide variety of places in the world has shown us that this sense of solidity is based on somewhat shaky foundations. We are witnessing the Earth reshaping itself….glaciers shrinking, ice mountains falling into the ocean, volcanoes covering the land with lava, overflowing rivers sweeping away hillsides, roads and houses in a few minutes, fires razing forests and whole townships to the ground.

Then along comes a pandemic and the entire world is faced with the certainty that nothing is certain. Day after day “experts” make predictions about what’s going to happen next, then something else transpires instead. We’ve even become a bit obsessed with the future….juggling fears, anxieties, plans and “what ifs”.

Maybe we are being forced to learn to live outside of our shared delusions – the delusion that human beings can control Nature, the delusion that Nature is something outside of us, something apart from us, the delusion that we exploit and consume without limits, (add your own favourite delusions here).

Maybe we are going to have to learn new skills, learn that we live in a complex inter-connected world, learn to emphasise adaptation over control, learn to rate relationships more highly than consumable goods, learn to co-operate and collaborate more than we compete.

Maybe if we do respond to these challenges by seeing the world anew, by taking the view “from above” as the old philosophers taught, then a new, bright, dawn lies just over the horizon.

I hope so.

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Wow! Just look at this poppy which has opened up in the garden a couple of days ago. I went in close to take this photo because I think when you look really closely you see an astonishing creation.

This is like a work of art. In fact, who would have imagined something like this if they hadn’t seen a flower before? I was thinking, what if an alien landed on Planet Earth and encountered this poppy, wouldn’t they be utterly amazed?

Actually, I’m not an alien here on Planet Earth but I am totally amazed by this. Look at the details! As well as the gorgeous red petals, right in the centre we can see this rich, dark array of structures which make up the reproductive system of this flower. The thirteen stripes on the seedhead – what are they? And why are there thirteen? Don’t you think thirteen is a strange number?

Honestly, I think you can lose yourself in contemplation of a glorious flower like this. On single plant, one single blossom, totally captivating.

And it won’t be here for long. Within a few days, all the petals will fall to the ground, ultimately only leaving the seedhead behind. I think it’s amazing. I’m transfixed! In fact, a simple, astonishing, utterly beautiful, intricately complex flower like this, can make me lose my sense of boundaries and separateness. I can experience transcendence in moments spent with a flower like this.

I guess we humans have been, and continue to be, pretty blasé and unthinking about the plant kingdom. But without it, none of us would be here. It’s the plants which capture and transform the Sun’s energy. We can’t do that. We eat the plants, or eat the animals which eat the plants, so existing a bit further along that chain of energy transformation to get what we need to survive and thrive.

It’s not just that there is an emerging consensus that plant-based diets are best for us in terms of health, they are best for us in terms of the planet too. I’m not vegan. I’m not even vegetarian. But I don’t eat meat every day, and in all the studies I’ve read over the years, time and time again, the conclusions seem to be, if you want a healthy life, and if you want a long life, you could do worse than to limit your meat consumption and move towards a plant-based diet.

There are many many studies now which also show us the benefits to our immune systems, to our inflammatory systems, and to our mental health, of spending time in, and connecting with, the natural world. Primarily, that’s the plant world of trees and flowers. So, it’s not just about seeing plants as a source of nutrition. Engagement with the plant kingdom is good for us every day – noticing, stopping, gazing, contemplating, wondering about, and, especially caring about, flowers, plants, trees is one of the best ways I know to increase the quality of everyday life, and to set yourself up to live as healthily as possible.

Glory to the plant world!

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1st April, first day of the ferry across to Inchmahome Island on the Lake of Menteith…….


Lake of Menteith

And we saw lovely swans…..here’s one landing….

Swan landing

and here’s one skimming the surface of the lake…

Swan cruising

and here’s one taking off…

Swan take-off

Have you ever heard a swan landing or taking off?
What an amazing noise!
Have you ever just stood and watched them flying onto and off the surface of the water? You’ll be amazed they can actually do it. For birds which look so supremely elegant as the sail across water, their landings and take-offs are really something to behold. You wouldn’t predict it.

By the way, take a better look at that swan cruising over the surface of the lake. Click through if necessary to see the image in its large size and look at the sun shining through its further away wing, highlighting every single feather.
Beautiful. Just beautiful.
You couldn’t make it up.

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This isn’t a quiz….well, at least, not in the sense that I know the answer! I came across these strange marks on fallen trees in a forest recently. Have you any idea what makes this happen? Is it a fungus? An insect? A worm?? Look at the variety, it’s quite astonishing!

tree marker

tree marker

tree marker

tree marker

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delicate plant ghosts

This tiny little plant is only about the size of my little finger. It’s so small, it would’ve been easy to miss it, but I’m glad I didn’t.

It inspires me for so many reasons.

I love the fact that what catches the attention is the spaces. They’re the first thing you notice. Almost as if when looking at a net you’d see the holes first, then the thread. And what was in those spaces? Some kind of seed I expect. This framework was most likely the structure that held the seeds in place, raised them up to the sky and waited till the wind blew and took them away to settle somewhere else. That got me thinking about seeds, and how many amazing ways plants have to spread their seeds around the world, how they’ll use the wind, insects, birds, really pretty much any way they can to hitch lifts, travel far and wide without any power to move in the seed itself. This set me thinking about the interconnectedness of everything, of how the world is a vast interconnected network, how really you can’t understand anything or anybody without knowing something of the world they live in and some of their vast web of connections, influences, links and bonds.

Then I got to thinking about how this little group of circles held up the past for inspection. Look, said the plant, here is where my sons and daughters were, and now they’ve all flown and I’ve only the spaces now in my life, where they used to be. And that’s just how it should be.

I had other thoughts too, but I’d be interested to hear if this little plant inspires any thoughts of your own!

delicate plant ghosts

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Come take a walk with me up the path towards Mont Sainte Victoire. Let’s start down here by the dam…

mont st victoire

and we’ll take this path…

the path to mont st victoire

The first surprise was seeing a helicopter collecting water from the lake

collecting water

and practising dropping it again

spraying water5

On the way to the top I stumbled across these strange tree roots….


…and these tiny, tiny acorns…


These pine cones were unusual too….

pine cones

This was high enough for me to go today

mont st victoire

On the way back down I came across the first butterfly of the year


and this lovely little ladybird. Look how red it is! Hardly any black spots!


The sun was hot and some of the trees were oozing their sap


There was lots of rosemary and thyme, but very few flowers so I was really pleased to come across exactly these four crocus plants!


What I can’t share with you is the warmth of the February sun, the sweet, fresh smell of the air, or the almost total silence of the countryside up there. You’ll need to go yourself to appreciate that.

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Natural inspiration

Which of these creatures inspires you? What, if anything, could you learn from them?

busy bees
snails pace
morning rabbits

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butterfly and bee

While wandering around yesterday I stumbled across this lovely butterfly. It’s not easy to get a photo of a butterfly cos they don’t stay still for very long, but this one seemed to be taking its time more than the others. It got me wondering. What do butterflies eat? And how do they fly the way they do? Their flight seems most erratic, apparently lacking the consistency of movement that you see in bird flight for example. I realised I don’t know very much about butterflies at all! I certainly don’t know anything about butterfly classification! What “kind” of butterfly is this?

Well, when I got back home I checked out wikipedia. Turns out butterflies only eat liquids which they suck up through their long, tube-like “probosci”. They live on nectar and they can drink water from puddles. I would have guessed they lived on nectar but I hadn’t realised they had a fluid only diet. As for how they fly, well, that’s even more interesting…….it turns out nobody understands it. Their mechanism of flight – the aerodynamics and the physics of it – has never been fully explained. About four different ways of flying have been described but they don’t provide a full explanation and nobody knows how they manage to switch between the different flight modes so quickly.
I’m quite happy about that. I do like to learn but I also enjoy having that feeling of wonder and amazement. What I like best is a mixture of understanding and marvel. Butterfly life fits the bill!

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golden seedhead

Has anyone any idea what this plant is? I just stumbled across a few of these on a walk (I’m staying just outside of Aix en Provence in the South of France just now). I’ve never seen anything quite like this and there were quite a lot of them growing in twos or threes straight out of the ground, about a foot high. The seedhead itself is about the size of a clenched fist.

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