Border Lines

From London to Berwick: Culture shock? Oh, yes!

The birds, the bees… and a spot of Tai Chi

Is it just me or is there more nature happening this year? More bees, more birds and, yes, more reproduction. I’m having a bit of a love-in with nature at the moment. And, as so often happens during such spells of intense awareness and appreciation, serendipitous encounters contrive to enhance the glow.

At a friend’s house, I happened upon a book by the writer and broadcaster Richard Mabey, “The Perfumier and the Stinkhorn”. The friend was good enough to lend it to me. It turned out to be a library book – which could have been complicated. Thanks to Berwick Library for keeping things simple: our library’s a fabulous resource, please love it and use it. Mabey’s essays are a thoughtful exploration of the harmonies between science and romanticism through nature’s lens and an excellent counterpoint to the idea that science and romanticism must always be at loggerheads.

Richard Mabey’s inspirational book

Having hens at the bottom of our garden means regular sorties to deliver scraps, check for eggs, deal with poo, massage Vaseline into scaly legs and, most recently, a broody hen that stands no chance of raising a brood. This is how we know the crows talk about us. Like the vultures in “Jungle Book” they telegraph along the treetops: “Caw! Here they come! Caw! They’ve got leftover porridge. Caw!” It wouldn’t surprise me to find them wearing bibs and holding knives and forks by the time we reach the hens.

“It wouldn’t surprise me to find the crows wearing bibs and holding knives and forks.”

Bees interpret scent cues across substantial distances, passing on the gen to other bees. According to Mabey lead free petrol residues react with odour molecules messing with the bees’ ability to interpret scent, which may be a factor in their decline. Happily, our raspberry canes have been mesmerisingly and slightly terrifyingly alive with bees this year. For the last four years, The Husband has been building a structure to protect the raspberry canes from birds. Four years! “It needs done!” I cried, avoiding eye contact and shoving him into the humming cauldron. And, hey presto! the berry protection strategy is complete. No bees or husbands were harmed during implementation, the bees pass freely, the birds are largely kept at bay, and I will eventually get to grips with the intricate hook and eye system.

Despite berry deprivation, our garden birds are bursting with natural fulsomeness – families of blue tits, starlings, dunnocks, sparrows, great tits, blackbirds and wrens are all making a go of it just outside our window.

Friends recently guided us on a scenic circuit in the Cheviots – somewhere I really haven’t spent enough time. Mabey describes a moment when, listening to the nightingale’s song, it was as if, “the bird was in my head, and it was me that was singing.” “Yeah right.” I thought. Until the Cheviot walk, that is. Our ramble rolled through scrub and heather where the birdsong was genuinely tumultuous. The skylarks were particularly abundant, dropping like leafy musical notes to their nests. And, yes, the refrain wasn’t only outside, it was somehow also inside me as I walked. Shelley, in To a Skylark says, “Pourest thy full heart/In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.” And there’s the rub. Counter to what Shelley says, nature – birds singing, bees pollenating, animals reproducing – isn’t an accident. All that ‘art’ has a ferocious purpose – attracting, repelling, sounding the alarm, and ultimately being.

The Cheviots: A fabulous place to wander with friends.

The Cheviots: A fabulous place to wander with friends.

I’ve been popping along to Castle Vale Park Viewpoint in Berwick on a Wednesday morning for an hour of free Tai Chi (every week til the end of August 2014). It’s part of park manager Kate Morison’s drive to ensure the newly refurbed park spaces are used for positive purposes. High above the Tweed making its way to the sea, the flowing movements of Tai Chi seem particularly apt. As we shift and sway, nature gets on with doing its stuff around us. No more or less than usual – just noticed more by me.

The view we enjoy whilst doing Tai Chi and, coincidentally and extraordinarily, the one I enjoyed with Colin Firth when he visited Berwick on a recce for the film The Railway Man.

The view we enjoy whilst doing Tai Chi and, coincidentally and extraordinarily, the one I enjoyed with Colin Firth when he visited Berwick on a recce for the film The Railway Man.

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(A version of this post first appeared in The Berwick Advertiser in July 2014)

 

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