You might be able to tell by the subtitle that I am having to take a bit of poetic license on today’s topic. Many of you will have probably guessed that our (European) ‘Mr Brock’ type badger (Meles meles) does not appear in the Bible. While it can be found in Israel, as we shall see, it is unlikely to be the animal to which the texts in question refer. Nevertheless, I felt that it was fitting as the badger is the symbol of the Wildlife Trust who are running the 30 Days Wildchallenge which this series of posts is supporting.
Badgers have been in the news quite a lot – generally for all the wrong reasons (as far as they are concerned!). Nevertheless, there is something really special about encountering a badger. There is something reassuringly familiar about them. Just think about the number of children’s stories in which they appear – this is something critics of the badger tend to point out! But there is also something strangely different about them. They are sinewy and much faster than you might expect. I can remember one of the first badgers I ever saw. It was at night from a bedroom window. We had been awoken by a noise in the garden. In the gleam of the torchlight we caught the glint of a long, silvery, supple, body wrapped round a bird table – for all the world looking like a podgy, but lithe, snake – before it shot away. After the initial shock we realised that it was a badger who was trying to knock over (once more) our bird table. The ‘biblical’ badger might be different, but it is no less interesting!
Fish – דָּגָה (dagah); דָּג (dag); ἰχθύς (ichthus); ὀψάριον (opsarion)
Another image that can capture the delights being outside on a slow summer’s day is sitting beside a flowing stream and catching the flash of light and plop of water as the surface is disturbed by flick of a fish’s tail. It is a great reminder of those completely different, almost alien, and often hidden, habitats populated by life and character that can lie just feet away from us.
When you spot a cormorant, and especially a colony of cormorants, you know you’ve spotted something a little unusual.* This is not because they are especially rare, it is because they have a singular character about them. Their black plumage has that iridescent sheen that is associated with oil slicks, and their long necks and hooked bills can give them a rather prehistoric, reptilian feel. It is an incredible swimmer (see video below), resembling underwater more a fish than a bird. One of the great UK conservation success stories of the past few years has been the improvements to the water quality in our rivers and waterways. This has helped to attract cormorants, once again, inland – much to the anger of anglers!
If I were to describe my most idyllic summer scene it would have to include sweeping meadows of rich green grass, dotted with dandelions, buttercups and daisies (perhaps a clover or two), the sound of doves, the damp scent of soil and meths from a roaring Primus stove, the song of a sky-lark singing under pillowed clouds, and, most importantly of all, a large Weeping Willow tree beside a gently flowing river. I have a real fondness for this tree. Perhaps it is because we had one in the garden when I was lad. It stood beside the pond and from time to time, I would grab a handful its slender branches and use it to swing out over the pond below.
In my experience, bats are like Marmite. They tend to divide opinion. Some people detest them while others are enchanted by them. Perhaps this is because they literally flit on the peripheries of our lives. The darting dots, like fireflies in reverse, that fly in the gloaming in such apparently random and unpredictable ways. The bat is a liminal creature in so many ways. Then there is that archive of folktales and family stories. The (always distant) relative for whom a bat got caught up in her (it usually is a ‘her’) hair. As a child I was assured that this could never happen, the bat’s skill at echolocation, as well as at flying, was far too good for that. Although, in later life, I found that the swarms of midges, drawn by my body-heat, just above my head, provides a very rich hunting ground and, on more than one occasion, I have felt the rush of air from the wings of a swooping bat.
Once more we turn our gaze upwards to, what Richard Jefferies (1885) described as ‘nature on the roof’* as we look at the ubiquitous sparrow.
The cheeky sparrow
Although the rook will forever be my ‘favourite’ among birds, I have to confess to an utter delight when it comes to sparrows. Their sheer energy and collective vibrancy as you walk past a suburban bush and it erupts with a whirling chaos of chirps and cheeps! If find their wonderful chattering antics around the bird feeders as they squabble and bicker, like a bunch of adolescent monkeys, or dust-bathing at the kerbside of a local road, totally engrossing and entertaining.
I am very fortunate where I live as the neighbouring fields are often frequented by a small population of hares. It is a real joy to watch them about their daily life or, early in the morning, racing down the lanes. As we we see, the hare can evoke a number of different emotional responses in us. Although, in many ways similar to the rabbit – on first sight, our initial reactions are often, ‘is that a hare or a rabbit?’ – the engender an altogether different set of emotional and psychological associations.
It is apt that the hare has an equally emotive, some times poignant, and sometimes enigmatic place within biblical and post-biblical tradition.
The sound of the dove on a late summer’s afternoon, when velvet shadows begin to stretch over a freshly cut lawn, is one of those magical, lazy, sounds of summer. There is something special, something strangely soporific and hauntingly melancholic, about the dove’s call. As we shall see, it is something that also touched the heart and imagination of the ancient Hebrew writers of our biblical literature too.