jusummerhayes

The draw of nature

Fat Man's Alley, South Brent, Devon
Fat Man's Alley, South Brent, Devon

You can just about see it in the top right-hand corner: an old wooden style that is the starting point for Fat Man's Alley (for all the skinny folk!) leading on to Penstave Woods. It's actually more a Copse, but I like to think of it as my version of a dense, North American forest. More particularly, it follows the path of the River Avon, the river that runs through my village. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you'll have seen many pictures of the river, a few featuring Alfie — our supercharged, never-tired-out Sprocker.

Why am I sharing this with you? I'm not a nature writer after all — at least not yet. Well, because as my kids well know, Penstave Woods or, more precisely, any spot near to the River Avon, is where I'd like my ashes scattered. Yes, I've already shared that amount of detail because I don't want it said that I didn't organise my affairs; but more particularly, I feel a strong affinity — an abiding one — with the locus. Quite why I can't really say but all I know is that as well as enjoying some superb hours trampling around the woods and watching Alfie do his let's-get-dirty-as-hell thing, there's always been a strong sense of ancestry. What do I mean? I mean I can feel the presence of the elders of old who I'd like to join that or the earth gods have work for me!

Before then, I expect to spend many more hours in the woods and that includes, when the weather improves, going for a wee dip in one of the few pools that can accommodate my thrashing and wailing, as I brave the cold water that comes off of Dartmoor. I know also, if things get really rough, I can always go hang out among the stones, trees, bracken and earthy smell to recentre and recalibrate myself. 

Of course, I realise how lucky I am to have such an amazing place on my doorstep. God knows how I'd have coped or would cope if I lived in a city, save for the fact that having done so (London and Bristol) I would have, as is my way, found a green place to get deeply connected or as deeply connected with nature as humanly possible. I accept it's not the same and that's been brought home to me on more than one occasion when I've spoken to people online who've seen my almost daily picture shares, remarking how amazing is my homestead. And how right they are.

I still though need to get closer to my surroundings. Sadly, I've tended to see it during lockdown as my escape from the reality of my situation — which, all things considered, hasn't been too bad — whereas I should have learnt the names of the trees, stopped more often to stare at the changing weather patterns, listened more attentively to the birds and gazed at the lichen and small insects that litter the lanes hereabout. Even allowing for my lack of attentiveness, one thing I'm not afraid to admit is that there's not a single day that passes where I don't feel a deep spiritual connection with my surroundings. At times, the sense of place has been so overwhelming I've almost cried. In fact, leading up to Brian's death, I cried in bucket loads, particularly as I sat and watched the River Avon. Yes I know it's very literal but that's what the ebbing of his life felt like, namely that everything was in motion and moving on from one source to another. 

I also need to or rather want to go further into my place. I'm hoping to do so over the Christmas break, and if the weather permits I'll share some of my photos. In particular, I want to explore some old haunts that my old dog Fidget and I used to frequent. This was in the days when I did a lot more running and walking — often for hours at a time — and would routinely get lost chasing her as she set off in pursuit of the sheep, or a rabbit or whatever else she fancied. That's what you get with a Jack Russell or at least mine: one very determined little dog. Apart from wanting to reexplore some of our old haunts, there's something else in play. It has something to do with my spirit 'self' (no, not the ego side of me) wanting to go deeper into nature, to find the rich meaning that my life and all its aliveness means. I don't want to go off on a polytheistic monologue, but I feel that the spirits in these parts somehow echo my name, and I need to pay homage to them.  What I mean by that is I feel, not in an out of body sense, that I want to know more about the people who once inhabited this place, as I'm sure they did, and to live into their ancestry. You see, it's been on my mind for a while now that I too will one day be somebody's ancestor and I'm deeply concerned about what they will make of my exploits. I mean, even to think of the trail of destruction by dint of my materialistic ways, fills me with abject horror. 

One final thought. I accept that it's easy to get lost in the reverie of nature — an almost out of body feeling — but we are so lucky to have her bounty, even as diminished as it is. If only we'd see that at the deepest level, I remain convinced that we'd wake up sufficiently to see that we're not separate and apart from her transcendent beauty and perhaps then, and only then, would we begin to treat her with the reverence, love and tenderness she deserves and not as a means to our extractive, consumerist ends.

Anyhow, have a wonderful day.

Blessings, Ju.


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