At the tail end of the year 2000 I rescued a mongrel puppy. Merlin entered my life with boundless enthusiasm and oceans of love! He loved walking on the Somerset Levels greeting other dogs and their owners with happy leaps of joy. He loved my cats, all six of them; he took care of the chickens and ducks, gently rounding them up for me each evening; he hero worshiped Troy-boy my nine year old Sheltie collie. He senses when people are feeling down, befriending them with mournful eyes, an offered paw. He is my best friend.
He does what I asks without me having to raise my voice; he understands wide variety of language; as well as sit, wait, stay, no, here, he also knows ‘get on the verge’, ‘leave it’, ‘be nice’ and many other vocal expressions. Occasionally he makes his own decisions. Lying quietly on the back seat of the car is not for him. He used to like standing on the passenger seat with his nose on the wind-screen until a bought an estate car with a dog guard and banished him to the boot. Perhaps being fully alert when travelling by car is understandable; he and 5 siblings were thrown out of a speeding car door on a Welsh motorway as 5 week old puppies, he being the sole survivor. He didn’t approve of my rule that dogs sleep in the kitchen. He likes to sleep near me, on my bed.
I’m not the only person who loves him; others are drawn to him. Many were delighted by his elegant dressage style trot, sadly now more of a stagger. Others charmed by his happy demeanour. When I moved to Dorset eight years ago strangers would smile at him or stop to stroke him. Many greeted him by name, his owner ignored!
He has given me numerous wonderful experiences and taught me lessons over the sixteen years plus we have been together. Now he is teaching me patience. This is not one of my virtues, as I mentioned in my blog about the egret. He is now very old; deaf, almost blind with stiff arthritic limbs, his dressage trot long gone. He used to be most particular about where he did his business wading into the undergrowth to do it; now he leaves a trail of pooh down my front path, or the hall carpet or kitchen whenever he feels the need. He still wants to go out for walks but now they are terminally slow and short, he can spend five minutes investigating one smell. We have to be so very patient, my Jack Russell and me and sometimes it is hard.
At Christmas he nearly died, after 30 hours on a drip at the Vet’s it seemed the final needle was the only option; he refused to eat, drink or even stand up. I brought him home to die. But within hours he perked up, got himself down the garden for a wee, ate a hearty meal and asked to go out for a walk. He is still with me five months later. He wakes me up at night. I often need to carry him up hills or steps. He restricts me going away on holiday; I can’t leave him for more than a few hours but I don’t mind one bit! Every day I have him is a bonus and a privilege.
I learn a great deal from nature and the wild life around me, but my beloved Merlin has taught me so much more.
Rain, rain and more rain! Plus a storm and high winds!!! Certainly not my favourite weather, but the dogs are looking hopeful still so under layers of waterproofs we venture out on a local walk. The river Asker normally crystal clear water cascading over rocks this morning is a raging mud brown torrent.
There in the centre of the river perched on a huge tree stump is a tiny white delicate bird. Un-phased but the dangerous waters she is motionless; patiently waiting. I stay and watch thinking it is the last place she should be, fishing on such a day will be fruitless. How wrong can I be! As if to prove my thoughts wrong she suddenly darts towards the water scoops up a fish and flies up into a tree where she swallows down her catch.
I first saw the egret six years ago; unusually for Bridport we had snow which had remained frozen for a couple of weeks. There paddling along the river was a tiny white bird. I’m seen such birds in the paddy fields in Burma, on rivers in Africa and across Sri Lanka, but not in a busy town in freezing temperatures. Just why this bird has chosen this narrow stretch of land as her fishing grounds is a mystery. To the west is a busy main road, supermarkets and a trading estate. To the east is a housing estate. It is a popular place for numerous dog walkers, so why here? It is far from ideal? I watched her for a while that day. Noticed her stillness, her patience, her tolerance of interruptions – like dogs splashing into the water; she just gracefully glides up into a tree and waits for commotion to pass on.
I named it Eddy, although I have since been reliably informed that the lack of two long narrow tail feathers means Eddy is in fact a female. Twice over the years, I have seen her with a mate, but mostly it is just one lone bird. I like to think it is the same bird but of course it maybe just one of her descendants! Seeing her not only brings me joy but also reminds me to take a leaf out of her book and be more *patient with other people and most of all with myself!
I’m often impatient with myself. For not recovering from being hurt fast enough, for leaving work incomplete, letting tasks pile up, I can go on! Egret teaches me to stop! Be still. Then dive in and get things done when I have the energy and when the time is right to do so.
Perhaps you need to be more patient with someone who has irritated you? Or maybe, like me, you need to give yourself a break! We can all learn from this delicate white bird; that reaps a reward by being patient even when conditions are icy or dangerous by fishing in the centre of a busy town!
This blog should have been posted in early November, but circumstances beyond my control prevented it happening. Rather than let this one go and write a new one, please let me take you back to the end of October early November!
This autumn nature presented us with a magnificent kaleidoscope of colour. As the leaves change ready to fall we have been witness to a spectacular display of copper, gold, brown, red, and orange tones. This is my favourite time of year when trees prepare themselves for the winter ahead. The leaves fall and nurture the ground to lie dormant awaiting the onset of spring.
I’ve loved trees since I was very young. I grew up in rural Buckinghamshire with green belt woodland at the end of our garden and the vast forest of Burnham Beeches a short walk away. I would escape into these woods when ever I could, believing them to be magical. Here I felt safe, relaxed and energised.
Years ago when I was going through a bad patch emotionally, I took a walk across Bushy Park which was minutes from my house. I came across a tree completely hollow inside, just a thin semi circle of trunk remaining. Looking up I saw that its branches were covered in luscious green leaves despite its lack of trunk. I remember saying to myself if this tree can survive with such damage then so can I.
Recently I was cheered when reading an article on trees by scientist Peter Wohlleben. Following a study of trees over 20 years he has written a book on how trees communicate with one another, how they protect themselves from predators, how they feel and how they heal. He was confirming what I have always believed.
When I am not near trees I feel bereft. Although I had an orchard in my garden on the Somerset Levels there were very few trees around. There were stunning rows of poplars and willows (not the weeping kind) but a great deal of open treeless space. I found I needed to travel regularly to woodland up on the Quantocks, or south to Wayford Wood, to replenish my energy. Now in Dorset I am lucky they are all around me every where I go.
There are numerous lessons we can learn from trees, but the main one being that we too can survive healthily after being hurt or damaged. Consider this time of year to be when we can rest and recuperate like the leaves on the earth; nurture ourselves through winter ready for action next year. Maybe you would like to try an exercise that helps me? If you feel you are being bullied or aggressed by others, imagine you are a large oak tree. Stand firm and upright feet firmly on the ground. Imagine roots from your feet travelling deep into the earth securing you and strong branches reaching outwards from your arms and up into the sky. Try it! You will feel strong and powerful; it is difficult to knock an oak tree over!
The Hidden Life of Trees: What they feel, How they Communicate By Peter Wohlleben published by Greystone Books £16.99.
We were deluged with rain in West Dorset during the early summer. June was a wash out! Summer dresses, shorts and sandals were neglected in the wardrobe; much use was made of wellies and water proofs. Foliage grew in abundance across the countryside. My garden resembled a rainforest, the lawn a marsh.
Nature adapted to the inclement weather as did we humans. We rushed out doors to mow lawns or light the barbecue in the odd snatches of dryness, making the best of it and keeping cheerful. The seagulls nested on next doors’ wet roof successfully hatching out a trio of ugly brown chicks ignoring the damp weather conditions.
One morning following a particularly bad storm which battered my home with heavy rain and high winds, I set off from Burton Bradstock to walk over the cliffs towards West Bay. This is an enjoyable walk at any time of year, although in high winds it can be challenging, as my friends Mary and Bob will testify!
After around a mile walking across farmland we drop into Freshwater Bay, from there we (the dogs & I) return up the steep cliff face and back along the coastal path. But as we came down to the river on that day I was astounded to see a major change. For as long as I can remember the river has gentle curved to the West and then curled south to the sea. On this day, however, it had totally changed its course carving several snake bends before emerging into the sea half way up the beach; at least 200 yards further west. The banks each side of the river had neat architectural edges, as though it had always been that way!
‘Look at the river, it’s gone berserk and changed its course’ I had exclaimed to another dog walker.
‘It must be man made’ he replied ‘to stop flooding. No way it would have just change its course without help!’
I wasn’t going to argue, I knew this was an expression of nature at it’s’ best.
I took photos from half way up the cliff marvelling at the beautiful new pattern it had carved along the beach.
If a river can make such a major change why can’t we? We are nervous of change, sometimes even fearful to try a different way of being, or thinking. But if we can be sufficiently brave to leave behind an old pattern of behaviour for something better it can be wonderfully refreshing and liberating. At least this is my own experience and that of many of my clients and students.
So if you are stuck in a rut or are regularly doing something that is not giving you joy, then perhaps you can change course like the river?
Now in September after a warm dry August the river at Freshwater has settled back almost to its’ original course. But if we make changes for the better we don’t have to return to any old outdated ways of being.
This is big time for me, my first blog! I’ve been witnessing wonderful things from nature and sharing them with people I meet or jotting them down for years. Now I am going to jot them down on this blog.
I’m lucky, I live in beautiful West Dorset, but these messages used to come to me when I lived in central London too. In this monthly blog I wish to share with others some of the joyful moments I discover during my every day humdrum life! As I walk my dogs twice a day I observe, I look around me. It’s like a walking meditation; I am in the present moment, in the NOW. I’m not concerned about tomorrow, how I will pay a bill or deal with a future problem. I don’t think of past hurts or mistakes. I’m just walking observing. Sometimes I head out on a walk feeling tired and sad, I always and I mean always return home with a gentle smile on my face.
Be it a brief exchange with a stranger, another dog walker, an old person, a child, in someway I find a teaching from such an exchange. But more often it is my wildlife friends or the landscape that offers wisdom. My next blog post, below is an example.
I feel tired this morning. It’s an effort to get up, to take the dogs out. I ache all over. It is almost 11am by the time we make it down to the river. This is bad; my mind is full of negative thoughts. A comparative stranger was rude to me yesterday. I was upset, angry that she should treat me that way! Now I am considering whether her reaction towards me could be my fault. Had I expressed myself clearly?
I shake my head, I don’t want this thought. I take a breath in and breathe out slowly. My Jack Russell speeds on ahead chasing rabbits. My old dog trots behind.
The air is fresh and the sky blue. It is cold but the sun strong. The river has been murky and brown from weeks of rain; today it’s clear. I can see the pebbled bottom; sunlight glistens on the surface, tiny fish busy themselves. I begin to feel better. I lift up my head and straighten my back.
I look out for Eddie, as I have named him, the lone egret who has adopted this stretch of river as his own. He’s nowhere to be seen. But my eye catches a flash of bright blue and yellow; a kingfisher darts along the river close to where I walk. I watch him. Now he is up on a branch. He looks at me, then down at the river. He swoops down, back up onto a branch. He has a fish in his beak; his early lunch. He stays close to us – me and the dogs, along the river for 5 minutes. To have such a long sighting of a kingfisher is rare, so I wonder if he has come today and stayed so long for a reason.
Other people pass by, they don’t notice him. Now he has disappeared, off to another part of the river.
I consider what a delight it is to see this beautiful colourful bird. He is determined, skilful, confident, his movements fast but measured, planned, organised.
I stop to talk to an elderly lady. I tell her I’ve been watching a kingfisher. “What a joy!” she says. Then tells me she often sees kingfishers by the pond on the farm where she lives.
Slowly we head home, my old dog Merlin taking a lengthy time to sniff each and every smell, but I’m not impatient and no longer tired.
At home I look up kingfisher in Animal Spirit Guides by Steven D. Farmer, my favourite book on animal messages. The first line tells me:
“Make a point to express yourself clearly and concisely with everyone you communicate with.”
He did have a message for me. And perhaps for anyone reading this too? Sometimes I can be vague when responding to people, I don’t mean too but I maybe thinking of something else at the time. Sometimes I make a joke via an email to someone who doesn’t know me well. Emails are a great way to get things wrong!
So if you are reading this, be like my Kingfisher, be confident, measured, precise, make a plan before you dive in!