An inspiring magazine article I read the other day had a wonderful headline…’Nature is a state of grace that can be experienced by anyone, anywhere’.
Part of the piece’s theme was that nature isn’t just for over there, or thousands of miles around the world. It is right where you are, all the time, whether you live in a city or not.
I live on the outer edge of London right by the Thames as it flows down to Kent on the southside and Essex to the north. It’s urban but we are always within a short distance of ‘real’ countryside. And, as if proving the article’s point, I have just finished a year of nature notes – a diary of the nature I experienced wherever I was, either at home, up a mountain or in some woods.
Nature is indeed a state of grace, of great constant wonder no matter the place or time. I am lucky enough to have spent a lot of my life aware of the nature around me and to have experienced nature in many countries. But a year of writing down what I saw and sensed, paying extra attention to the plants, animals, landscape, skies, light, weather and everything else, gave me not only a lot of pleasure but constantly increased my knowledge and that state of grace.
For one thing, my ability to identify wildflowers had always been patchy. But watching every day for new flowers to appear from Spring into Summer and the use of a great little app on my phone to take photos and name them, I became a dab hand at walking along rattling off the names of every patch of vetch, cow parsley or
campion I came across.
A few examples from my year:
Nature is for all the senses and today – in the wind and rain along the riverfront walk by the marshes – it was one for sound. Not much to see except for a lovely white egret coming back on the river front. Urban and nature sounds were colliding – the distant pump-pump of pile-driving on a work-site near the river, a few parrots, the wind whistling the reeds, the odd sound of reed-bound birds. At one point, I walked down to the reed sides and stood for a few minutes taking in the noises. It was quite bleak and a cormorant on the iron pylon was the only thing keeping me company.
Astonishing walk to the Bridge today – in beautifully sunny weather a wide variety of birds topped by the truly amazing sight on the side girders of the bridge above the Kent shoreline of an adult peregrine falcon with a kill preparing it to feed its well-grown young, calling every now and again to its parent for the food. The adult was plucking the feathers out of what I think was a pigeon. I could see the blue of the birds and the gleaming white of their undercarriages. Other than this main attraction, a set of redshanks then, a little further on, another of adult and young knot and dunlin – about a dozen in all.
Hot sunshine all day and the beautiful Lake District landscape for all to see on a 7-hour slog to St Sunday Crag, Birks and Arnison Crag. Just out on the park near Patterdale Hotel, sheep away in the lower fields bleating for their food as the farmer came with his feeding quad. The becks and streams were tinkling with water and the sound of raptors echoed up to me as I climbed. The sweep of the dry-stone walls that pepper the hills in huge long runs was a real sight. Half-way as I sat for a rest on a verge looking down some crags, a ringed ouzle landed on a tree – its distinctive white band across its chest very visible.
An absolutely amazing Shoreham bluebell walk through the woods on a beautifully sunny day. The sheer array of bluebells was breath-taking, the flowers winding deep into the woods making everything seem like a wonderland. Astonishing. I had never seen such a display before. Other sights – some greater stitchwort, white bluebell and two lovely middle-sized old English ponies grazing on the field at the end of the main Shoreham walk stretch, past the chalk cross. A day for poetry in the blue.
Butterflies and moths the standouts of the day with a walk along the River Cray from Bexley. Lots of marbled whites (the white and black spots very noticeable) and a few large whites too. A few Peacocks and some orange butterflies which could have been coppers. Dragonflies and damsel flies out in force and many black-tailed skimmers, especially on leaves above the river. Red and white clover, lots of alfalfa, hawksbeard and trefoil. Masterwort, like little whitetop, goose grey (no flowers), a whole plain of meadowsweet (also a bit like white-top) and a small celandine looking yellow flower called a creeping cinquefoil. A few banks of goat’s rue and some in white flower. Egyptian geese and coots with their young, lots of blackbirds, a loud chiff chaff and an equally loud thrush high in the trees. A lovely few hours almost immersed in nature.
A boat trip from Seahouses to Holy Island and another day full of some Northumberland wonders. Just minutes out from harbour and dolphins – at least a pod of three, possibly four, jumping and diving around our boat and another not far off. Wonderful to see and reminded me of the dolphins that swam around our boat off Turkey when sailing with friends. Heading off to the Farne Islands and an array of birds and sea-life including seals and plenty of birds. The seals were resting on the rocks or dipping in the calmer waters around them. Above were a large number of gannets – huge wing-spans with black tips - fulmars and many guillemots floating on the sea. The high Holy Island monastery built on the impressive rock across the harbour has a sensational vantage point out to sea and towards the mainland. The Island itself is very flat, except for the rock, and so exposed to the harsh elements of the sea and weather. Swallows again peppered above us as we walked to the ancient priory ruins. Back on the boat there were hundreds more gannets and guillemots on the return journey and great views of this impressive coastline laced with castles.
And a few photos too: