When you are out enjoying the countryside, if you are unfortunate enough to encounter a flea it is more than probable (and I have my fingers crossed here!) that it will not be a human flea (Pulex irritans), but one of the other strains that parasitise other animals/birds. As with some of the other posts in this series, the flea might not be one of the most obvious animals associated with biblical literature, but then again it is not often associated with calls for ‘getting back to wild’. Nevertheless, they may be discomforting irritation, but they are also an integral part of the ecological landscape.
There are a couple of reasons why I have included Wild (or common) Madder (Rubia peregrina) for this wildlife challenge. The first is very personal. I have mentioned in earlier posts that my mother was an avid botanist and, for some reason, I associate the plant with holiday forays into the country. Distribution of this plant is restricted predominantly to the south west regions in the UK – see the helpful interactive distribution map produced by the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) and so was not common to where we lived. Consequently, if we happened to by holidaying or visiting the south west or Wales, spotting ‘Madder’ was very much on her ‘botanising list.’ There we would follow Keble Martin’s (a battered copy of his book was Mum’s botanical bible) cryptic clues:
This one might come as a bit of a surprise even to the most careful readers of the Bible! Perhaps that is rather apt. Although native to UK waters, sightings of dolphins are always special. For most people, they are unusual enough to make any encounter with them a treasured memory – a real ‘red-letter’ day. Unfortunately, I have as yet to seen one in the wild. However, when friends come back from their holidays, if they did manage to spot one, it is often related as one of the high spots of their time; “Oh, and we even saw a dolphin in the bay!”
In this respect dolphins remain in our imaginations as being something a little unusual and not part of our expected daily norms. So too is the tachash. Although it occurs 14 times in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), which is significantly more than some of the other animals we have been looking at, it still retains an air of mystique. Translators simply don’t quite know what to make of it.
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.
There is a general air of ambivalence surrounding the caterpillar… France (1986:35) suggests that, being “nurtured with the notions of the woolly caterpillar of Little Arabella Millar and the amiable [really??!] and bumbling creature of Alice in Wonderland“, we have a somewhat romanticised view of the humble caterpillar. While it is true that this literary tradition continues to the present (with the popularity books like Eric Carle’s (1969) The Very Hungry Caterpillar), I am not totally convinced that most people view them quite so benignly. Despite the love that is often accorded to butterflies, my experience is that people tend to be rather squeamish of them and react in a similar way to spiders or worms.
What is noticeable is that, although there are possible references to caterpillars in the Bible, there are no references to butterflies at all. Israel hosts a large number of resident and migrant species – as well as moths (which do receive mentions in both the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and New Testament.
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.
This post has been adapted from an earlier post: Verse of the Month: Proverbs 6:6 “Go to the ant…”
A trail of ants along the kitchen floor; a ragged column climbing the legs of the garden chair; picnics spoilt by the steady and unrelenting invasion of this tiny army. Who can forget that itchy feeling on those muggy evenings of flying ants? Unfortunately we usually encounter ants as an often unwelcome irritation to our lives. This is a pity as it means that we can easily overlook their breathtakingly complex and remarkable lives which still keeps modern scientists intrigued.
Go to the ant, you lazybones; consider its ways, and be wise.
Proverbs 6:6 (NRSV)
This proverb not only suggests that the ant can be a guide for living, it can also help us uncover the intriguing world of biblical wisdom literature by giving us an insight into how these types of text were composed, developed and circulated.
Although it is not a native to the UK, the acacia or the name ‘acacia’ (to my mind at least) is indelibly connected to suburbia and leafy, neatly trimmed, privet-lined gardens of Middle England. Loved by bees, the acacia carries with it the scent of the exotic, which is not surprising as it is more usually associated with much warmer climes.
The tree of the wilderness
The Bible lists שִׁטָּה (shittah), usually translated as ‘acacia’, twenty-eight times. However, as Tristram (1898:392) cautions, we need to be careful not to confuse it with the acacia commonly found in Britain. The types of acacia normally found in the UK generally originate from Australia rather than the Middle East. Continue reading →