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.
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.
Snails are fairly hard to miss at this time of the year. Following a June rain shower or on a dewy morning and they are almost everywhere. We are, probably, all familiar with that horribly uncomfortable crunch underfoot as we inadvertently tread on one. As vegetable plots and gardens begin to flourish, the gardeners amongst us will have a particular affinity (or should that be antipathy?) with this rather strange creature; a relationship that quite often can degenerate into all out warfare!
In many ways, the snail is a singular creature and so it is fitting that its appearance in the Bible is no less singular and perhaps even a little baffling. Continue reading →
When I was an undergraduate, in order to get us all to think about the power of language, my philosophy lecturer (always one to deliver as much bang for your buck as possible) drew out a large rock from behind his lectern and proclaimed, “We are told in the Bible that God is a rock… cold, hard and lifeless.” In so doing, he encapsulated the problem with metaphor. They can be incredibly powerful, but they can also disastrously backfire. Metaphors must be handled very carefully. In this psalm we can see the real/perceived concerns of its users in Antiquity that continue to influence our reading of the text even today… Continue reading →