Part two of Roy Mitchell’s lifelong journey with nature (you can read part one here). Drawings by Vanessa Mitchell.
By the time I was three I lived in that city below the farm, although my young heart never left that paradise of Broad Greens and I tried to return to it as often as I could. It was home. It was I felt my natural place, not the city. My comfort was bound up in being with and surrounded by nature.
In the city I appreciated every little bit of nature I could see, but the landscape I roamed even as little more than a toddler, was all build up with terraced houses, flats and cobbled streets. We lived in a top second floor flat and I had access to only a small shared yard which largely housed a defunct bomb shelter, a relic from the war. Oh how I missed those wide open landscape views, with their fields, animals and trees. There were compensations in living in the city. Easy access to shops (sweets and comics), the Saturday morning cinema with its cartoons and in summer outings to parks and the beach and the pantomimes at christmas. But it did not stop me having something of an identity crisis at the early age of five or six.
Two factors I think principally contributed to this identity crisis. The first was my position in the wider family. I was aware I was a favourite of my grandmother who showed me unconditional love and who had been my principal carer in my first months (as a result of ‘circumstances’ which were not talked about). As I became more aware I grew conscious at a very young age of the fact that these family ‘circumstances’ were never going to be discussed or revealed. It made me uneasy and this, coupled with my removal from the farm to live in the city made me feel that there was something not quite right about me and in some way I did not really deserve to be on the farm.
My mother had taught me to read before I went to school and I was an avid reader from then on devouring all sorts of stuff including the newspapers and the bible even at that early age. This introduced me to the ideas of sin and societal judgement and I couldn’t for the life of me work out how I had sinned and why I could no longer live in my Eden. I used to lie awake at night going over and over this issue trying to discover what it was that was not right about me.
It was Nature that came to my rescue and the idea that all Nature was created by GOD. I knew Nature was good, it’s where I felt most at home. I knew also inside me that I was a part of Nature, not something separate from it but that it was integral to me and accepting of me. This was my real identity. I was a part of nature and as such a part of GOD’s creation. I had my place and I wanted to spend as much time with Nature as I could. This realisation gave me the courage to ask to spend all my short and long holidays at the farm. I asked and it was given with all of us (my parents and my grandparents), I now think recognising I needed that in order to be or become me.
So life went on with my time shared between the city and the country, a pattern which continues to this day. I became aware of Nature in the City. It was different – less variety, and I had a more tenuous connection with it. Birds were important. They were about the only wildlife I was aware of apart from insects and mice. The one note tweet of sparrows, the call of gulls and cooing of pigeons are all associated with the streets in which I lived, while blackbirds, thrushes, robins and ducks were to be found in the parks. Pet dogs and cats were plentiful as were other pets. We kept a tortoise and tried several goldfish in bowls but their lives were short in both instances and we soon gave up. A highlight for me was finding a sparrow with a broken wing and taking it in a shoebox to a nearby vet, a close encounter which I hope was as much service to the bird as it was to me.
My country holidays expanded my nature horizons not only in the variety of wildlife and farmed animals but also in terms of natural vistas of land, sea and sky all of which seemed to lift my soul and spirits making me feel more expansive, freer. My country stays were always something to be looked forward to and relished. Then life moved on, this time for the better. We moved to the country when I was aged nine with a new job for my Dad, and also later for my Mum who became a nurse.
Extracts from my Nature diary 2020
20 Feb 2020 – My longest close up view of a jay whilst at breakfast this morning in the sun room with its floor-to-ceiling glass. The jay was feeding on the lawn about 20 feet from me. It spent several minutes finding grubs and seeds in the grass before flying up to perch on the adjacent apple tree and then the birch across from the apple where it stayed for quite some time until a magpie arrived at which it flew away. It seemed quite content and comfortable in its surroundings. When out walking in woods I have often been scolded by jays for trespassing on their territory with them tracking my progress by flying from tree to tree squawking at me. The weather in the last two weeks has been wet and windy with two big storms. As I write this a little wren, a daily visitor is working the pots on the patio just through the glass from me.
6 March 2020 – A visit to Hollybush Common with its panoramic view of the Malverns, a view of which I never tire. The churchyard is filled with flowers: daffs and pansies and Forsythia flowering too. The fields around Tewkesbury were all under water from extensive flooding, and the common wet for parking (nearly got stuck) but alright for walking.
8 March 2020 – with Bath Nats at Vallis Vale. The geology (the De La Beche Unconformity) was really impressive; two very distinct layers of rock from different periods on view one on top of the other. Much past industrial activity in the valley where two rivers meet, with traces of coal mining, rock extraction and lime making all evident. It is now returned to woodland and the botany was interesting, with clock tower flower and others, also scarlet cup fungi. Mosses were in abundance including one called tree moss. When picked the individual little plants are in the shape of a miniature tree and together they form a very dense little carpet forest. Thrushes, buzzards and wagtails seen and goldfinch heard.
to be continued