Today is the last day of our 30 Days [Biblically] Wild challenge that has been inspired by the Wild Life Trust‘s ‘30 Days Wild.’ Over the past four weeks we have looked at a range of plants, animals and birds. The idea has been to look at species with which we could reasonably expect to encounter in the UK and perhaps would necessarily expect to find mentioned in the Bible. What I hope to have in some way achieved is to raise an awareness of the extent to which non-human life and the environment saturates this collection of texts that is so often assumed to be simply about God and humans. In the same way, just as non-human life suffuses our landscapes (if we just spend a little time to look for it), so too it permeates and influences the biblical writings.
We can see that the biblical writers were profoundly aware of their deep interconnections with the land. The preservation of the land (materially as well as spiritually) was intricately tied to their preservation as a people. Hareuveni (1991) and then Benstein (2006) are right in emphasizing the way in which the land formed their theology and provided a rich vocabulary through which to express it.
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!
I find the word ‘adder’ extremely evocative for a specific time and place. As soon as I hear or read it, I am immediately transported into the warmth of sunshine, the gritty, dusty feel of a sandy heath-land with gorse-scrub abd a hint of pine, and, above all, the rich, fresh tang of new-growth bracken.
As we are drawing into the final week of this 30 Days Wild challenge, if you have spotted – or if you do happen to spot – an adder you can count yourself very fortunate and lucky. Triply lucky really. Firstly, adders are becoming increasingly rare. Secondly, they are extremely shy creatures who excel at keeping out of sight. Thirdly, you really need warm dry day, as the times that you are most likely to spot one in the open is when it is drowsily sunning itself. In the rather damp and cool June of 2019, these types of days have been a rarity!
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.
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.
We are now half way through the Wildlife Trusts ‘30 Days Wild‘ challenge and so, to keep things fresh, today we will be exploring something different.
Three or four years ago I would have been tempted to start this post with something like a wry reference to the typical rain-swept summer we’ve been enjoying, which would have made the subject of rain very apt. However, changes in climate and weather systems has meant that the last couple of summers have been uncharacteristically dry and this one seems to follow that new pattern – even in March (2019), in central England,, the water butt we use for the hens’ water, was running perilously close to empty! Since then, the first half of June has proved to extremely wet with some areas receiving more than a month’s worth of rain in a single day!
Nevertheless, rain is a really important part of not just our ecology but our experiences of living in it. As the writer Cynthia Barnett (2015) suggests:
[Rain] is one of the last untamed encounters with nature that we experience routinely, able to turn the suburbs and even the city wild.”
Whether you are attempting to avoid it or are scanning the sky for the promise of an overdue shower, rain is as much a part of the modern world as it was in the ancient one. The following post comprises a few short sections from some research that I am currently writing on rain as theology within biblical and post-biblical antiquity.
Most people tend to encounter spiders indoors rather than outside. However, sit on a piece of grass for even a short length of time and you will soon see this, tiny and often overlooked, scurrying figure. Dewy late summer mornings, when the sun is still low, or frosty autumn and winter days can provide us with a wonderful display of webs that show how abundant and prolific this creature is. Sunrise can turn some meadows into fields of shimmering silver.
There is something special about encountering deer. Increases in population has meant that, in many woodland locations and at certain times of the year, they are fairly easy to spot. Many country parks and estates also keep herds and can allow some very close encounters with them. Despite their antlers, and the rather fierce reputation of stags, deer seem to hold a very special place within the British psyche. This attitude appears also to be reflected by some of the biblical writers.
Possibly the most redolent sound of summer is that of the soft, lazy hum of bees among sun-warmed lavender. Out of all flying insects, it could be argued that bees are the most well loved – or at least well tolerated. I’ve known people renowned for distractedly swatting away flies, wasps and all kinds of insects, sit for (what seems like) hours patiently coaxing a grounded bee to with sugar water or honey.
The recent concerns over declining population has also helped to promote a re-assessment of the bee and our attitudes to it. Tracey Thorn’s recent tweet exemplifies this beautifully.
Today’s post is a little bit of a cheat. But I really like goats (they are one of my research topics) and, although I know we don’t really have any wild goats left in the UK, I feel slightly vindicated by a news report covered by the BBC in March this year announcing that ‘Wild goats flock to Llandudno in bad weather‘!
Goats, along with sheep, have long been a part of human culture and economy and therefore also an intrinsic part of the human landscape (for a brief readable overview see Borowski, 1994 or Sasson, 2014). Encountering their rugged form on some bleak wilderness scarp can give us a very real impression of wildness and freedom, even though they are in fact indicators of the exact opposite. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed many a packed lunch on some windswept Welsh mountainside sharing Marmite sandwiches with a feral goat or two.