Life

Take on Nature: In the here and now

John Buxton's book The Redstart became a seminal monograph on a migratory species common to many parts of Britain during summer

DURING times of stress and heightened anxiety, we often deal with racing, intrusive and debilitating thoughts which serve no useful purpose other than to alert us of the need to ground ourselves in the here and now.

Not always easily done, the natural world and its forms have helped many with the task of living in the moment. Recently, I watched some sparrows immerse themselves in a bird bath, all oblivious to my presence. They ducked, dived, splashed and shook, living and enjoying only that moment.

Later, I encountered a thrush preening on a fence, again focused solely on this task. Not long after this I watched a starling on my neighbour's television aerial where it remained, clicking, chuckling and whistling for longer than I could watch. In the moment again.

Nearby, a pair of blue-tits have since been entering and exiting a nest box, house hunting, thinking only of choosing wisely, a safe and suitable nest site.

In the grounds of the local church last week, I was treated to a chorus of evensong from thrush, blackbird, chaffinch and wren all celebrating the day's end and living in the moment.

My dog Robbie, greets every morning with pilates-like stretches and movements, moments which gently caress the start of each new day when nothing else matters to him.

Recent decades have brought enormous technological advancements to society, changes and developments which have perhaps evolved more quickly than our human ability to evolve with them.

Evolution in the natural world is immeasurably slow, providing for minor adjustments and adaptations over millennia, changes which ensure the survival of plants and animals as they respond to new conditions.

Time affords species the chance to survive. In our present world, it seems we must assimilate all this change into our lives quickly, whether desired or not, and despite the possible negative impacts.

John Buxton from Cheshire was a prisoner of war in different German camps, during the second World War. His love of the countryside and of birds was a constant solace in camp life and bird-watching was, for him and several fellow prisoners, including Peter Conder, John Barrett and George Waterston, one of their few pleasures.

During his years as a POW, he carried out detailed studies of the Redstart, a bird which nested in woods within the prison perimeter. After the war he was encouraged to publish his research in book form, something he did in 1950.

Although an amateur birdwatcher, his book The Redstart became a seminal monograph on a migratory species common to many parts of Britain during summer.

Recounting one occasion he watched the birds, he wrote of how "they lived only in the moment, without foresight and with memory only of things of immediate practical concern to them – which was their nesting hole; memory also, perhaps, of the way back, when their one necessary urgent purpose was done, to the hot sun of Africa."

Buxton and his friends became significant figures in post-war wildlife conservation. They clearly found meaning from their observation of birds amidst the squalor of prison life.

Maybe we could all benefit from taking time out occasionally from busy lives to watch how the natural world lives and find some meaning from how it works.

In his poem Leisure, Welsh poet William H Davies talks of taking time "to turn at Beauty's glance" and to "stand beneath the boughs / And stare as long as sheep or cows."

He concludes, "A poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare."

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