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|(photo: Peter Sisam)|
When I was twelve a teacher at school used to take us for walks on Sunday afternoons. As we went, he gave a name to every bird, every sound. I can remember him pointing out the first migrant to arrive in the spring of 1940 - a willow warbler. It was March 13th.
How I love that bird's song. It came to be my favourite.
Every journey, every walk, every early morning ever since has been different for me because of that teacher's enthusiasm for nature.
I have a precious book Birds of the British Isles and Their Eggs, Volume 1, by T A Coward, signed by him: 'Bird Club, Ripley Court, 2nd prize, April 1940, John Bowes.' He was killed in the war.
How much I owe to him.
Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary 1907-1916, in his classic The Charm of Birds wrote this about the call of the curlew: 'The notes suggest peace, rest, healing, joy, an assurance of happiness past, present and to come... on a still day one can almost feel the air vibrating with the blessed sound.'
The message of nature is newness. Every tree is different. Every leaf, every second of a sunrise.
People through the ages have had a craze for novelty, for the next sensation. Nature, on our doorstep, offers constant newness, and it's free.
I love walking through a wood or down a stream watching, listening, aware that what I can see is only a tiny fraction of the teeming life around.
Woods seem to say to me 'slow down'. A tree rebukes a tired, busy and burdened spirit. A forester once said that when he was young and had a problem he would talk it over with the beech tree in the garden and was always satisfied with the result.
I used to have a date in May every year to go to Wytham Wood near Oxford just before four o'clock in the morning and watch the world wake up. Thrushes and robins are usually the first. By 4.30 the chorus is astounding. The sun comes up through the mist. A cuckoo calls. Deer appear, and perhaps a fox. It reminds me that the world is still perfect.
There is no hurry or impatience about nature. The oak takes about 70 years before it produces its first acorn.
The boatman who took us out to the Bass rock near Edinburgh years ago said there were 30,000 gannets on the rock and about 10,000 of them went out each day to fish. It has stayed in my mind ever since: 10,000 gannets out at sea fishing - the very wonder of it!
The naturalist, Richard Jefferies (1848-1887), wrote of 'the sublime extravagance of nature': 'Every blade of grass, every leaf, is an inscription speaking of hope. There is nothing utilitarian, everything is on a scale of splendid waste.'
But nature is unobtrusive in her profusion. Most of the blossom remains unseen. It does not grow to be admired. It reminds me of the carvings in cathedrals, mostly unseen and author unknown.
Dante described nature as the art of God.
'Thy righteousness is like the great mountains,' says one Psalm.
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