Journeying with nature: part four

Roy Mitchell concludes his four-part series. You can start with part one here

At the age of 15 life took me to England with my Dad’s new job where I have lived for over 50 years, first in the Midlands and then for the last 40 years or so in the West Country, enjoying its flora, fauna, wildlife and landscapes which all enrich my being. I met and married a likeminded soul whose love and communion with nature matched my own and the pattern of being close to Nature communing with it daily in some form was important to us both. Our early years together established this and the pattern of our lives. Living as close to the country as possible and spending our spare time in it as much as possible, whilst we also enjoyed the amenities of the town or cities where we made our living and started a family.

Nature, however, was to intervene in our lives in a drastic and transforming way in the form of viral illness.

Our lives were happily forging ahead when the annual round of flus and infections started to become more problematic for my wife; becoming more frequent and their effects longer lasting until after two years of this, the effects did not clear up at all. The diagnosis at this stage was glandular fever followed by post viral fatigue syndrome. After about six months following diagnosis, she was medically advised to ignore her symptoms and just get on with her life. This she tried to do and limped on as best she could for another couple of years or so before another viral infection left her in bed with an even greater confusing variety of very debilitating symptoms which would not abate. Her doctors were unable (as before) to impact on this situation and she became bedbound and unable to care for herself for many months on end.

What sustained her (and me) during this period was contact with the natural world. Our bedroom had large windows and looked out on a large expanse of sky with a view up a valley and surrounding hillsides. Our home overlooked a field immediately opposite which was used by ‘hobby farmers’ who kept goats, a sheep and chickens. Twice daily they would come to tend their animals bringing with them their several pet dogs who would romp and play chase in the field. The sound of this twice daily activity, and the ever-changing sight of clouds and birds traversing the sky and the changing light were all things that my wife cherished from her bed as she lay ill, as well as birdsong including the hooting of owls and also the wail of foxes during the night.

Small raptor in flight – drawing by Vanessa Mitchell

She was removed from normal daily life through illness but felt comforted by hearing and seeing a little of the natural world around her. She hung on to the hope that she would again be able to commune more fully with the natural world. In time, with careful management of energy expenditure, other environmental and lifestyle adjustments, together with avoidance wherever possible of further viral and other infections, there was a degree of easement, but she was thereafter always severely restricted in what she could do. This meant she really appreciated that which she could do. Watching, drawing and painting nature became a major part of her life. She demonstrated amazing grace in coping with her situation throughout her 34 year illness.

Walking in nature was a major comfort and solace for me during all those years. It was also a way of sharing with my wife. I could relive my walks with her describing where I had gone and what I had seen and encountered. Digital cameras became a major helpful aid allowing me to photograph and video at will so that I could not only talk about where and what I had seen but show it also without the delay of waiting for photos to be developed. It was an important bond and sharing for us both. Our lives were limited by my wife’s long illness which eventually led to her early death, but nature enriched our shared lives beyond measure.

As to the limitations imposed by her ill-health; well in the absence of any meaningful societal effort to research cause or effective treatment, we had to respect them. Not to do so rapidly ushered in an even lower quality of life for us both. The restrictions slowed us down so that we took the time to be more immersed in nature often sitting quietly wherever we could get to in the country or in our garden, or sun room letting nature come to us. It is surprising how much shows itself to you if you can be quiet and patient like this.

Nature helped us both find the grace in our lives. It helps me still. Especially in another difficult time when a viral pandemic which affects so many also places severe limitations on what all of us can safely do if we are to minimise our human suffering, including the increased loss of loved ones. I am grateful for the communion I find in wider nature and in sharing my own and hearing of others enjoyment of nature in all its many guises. Nature asks many questions of us but also contains the answers if we care to look and work with it.

Everything in nature, I find, does what it can when it can until it cannot do it anymore, which is when the force behind nature helps you and everything become something else. Nature forever renews exploring different forms of being but somehow always with the past connections embodied within the new. It is how we discover where we came from. Determining where we are going, is it seems an altogether more difficult exercise! This for me only adds to the majesty of nature for it must unfold and be lived to become truly known.

I call my journey with nature being and becoming. Nature nurtures me and challenges me in equal measure. I try to accept both its nurture and challenges with as much ‘Grace’ as I can muster. I have come to realise that I am perhaps a big picture person, looking for the patterns that emerge and dissipate over time. I am the shallowest of nature watchers being able to name very little of what I see and yet somehow, I feel and share this deep connection with it all. I feel a deep conviction that all of Nature (including ourselves) is on a joint journey of discovery.

We share at our most basic level the same past and the same present and we are all headed to the same shared future. It is the path and the journey which delights me and seeing all of creation including human kind discovering themselves as we go.

I keep in mind, that according to science, energy cannot be lost, only transformed into something else in this our Universe and perhaps the yet unseen, unknown beyond. Always being and becoming.

Extracts from Nature diaries

9 October 2018 – a young sparrowhawk perched on our garden fence under the birch tree, constantly looking around. It was there for about 10 minutes and R and I observed it all the while. Young, downy feathers gently moving in the breeze. Beautiful markings; chevrons at its chest and black dots on buff on its back. Bright piercing eyes. It suddenly shot off like a bullet and disappeared into the trees in the lane. A little later when I (V) went into the backgarden it shot out of our apple tree and flew over my head and the house.

September 2020 – Fungi appearing in the fields. Spotted fairy ring. Small copper butterflies seen near the canal. On visits to Dartmoor and Exmoor plenty of warblers about and heather in full flower. On Sept 28 spotted a small flock of swallows migrating south about 30 in total at the start of another long journey for them.

Autumn 2020
The season of my fungi hunting. Visited lots of different woods and meadows. I thought it was a poor year for fungi or I had lost the knack of spotting them, but on checking my notes, I see I came across quite a variety including Parasol, fairy ring, champignon, stinkhorn, puffball, horse mushrooms and quite a few others. Another highlight this autumn was spotting an otter crossing a field above the river Wye; it came out on the road only 30 yards ahead of me, crossed and went down to the river. Another magical moment.

Mid Dec 2020
Aubretia flowering at my north facing front door! Back garden busy with usual seasonal and regular visiting birds. On a lovely walk from Yatesbury towards Avebury spotted a large flock of winter visiting fieldfares feeding. Occasionally taking off in block before settling again. A seamless flowing flock movement. Signs of nest repairs/building going on at a rookery near a farm along the way. Roses in my back garden were still going very well until 2 weeks ago. All gone now; the last for 2020 but they will flower again from next April on (with only a little care from me).

4 January 2021
Today another lockdown has been put in place asking us not to leave home again except in exceptional circumstances. It seems the virus has mutated and become more infectious. We can expect more hospital admissions and a rising number of deaths; made worse if we don’t comply with the restrictions as best we can. The good news is we now have vaccines, but it will take a huge effort and most of this year to cover the majority. Patience. Yesterday the 3rd Jan, I participated with 2 other Bath Nats in a BSBI survey of flowering plants. This is an annual New Year event participated in by many across the country. We found 35 flowering species in our 3 hour winter ramble in Victoria Park and surrounding streets. This was a little bit down on previous years; thought to be due to the recent and ongoing heavy frosts. A weather ‘ beast from the east.’ On New Years day I had done a solo wild flower spotting walk around Swainswick taking photos of my finds. I was able with help from a Botanist friend to submit my own report of findings to the BSBI survey. I am better, I think, at identifying birds and when I can, take part in a garden bird watch. It all helps to track trends and changes, adding to our understanding.

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