This little garden spider came in on a colis plant that will be livening up my window sill this winter. I think that spider webs are lucky and if she avoids my cats, she might just make it to the spring with the rest of us.
The following link will take you to a really good news story about the rediscovery of the wolf spider that was thought extinct in the UK for years. It is also inspiring to see what dedicated amateur naturalists can discover by perseverance.
They shut the road through the woods Seventy years ago. Weather and rain have undone it again, And now you would never know There was once a road through the woods Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath, And the thin anemones. Only the keeper sees That, where the ring dove broods, And the badgers roll at ease, There was once a road through the woods.
Yet, if you enter the woods Of a summer evening late, When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools Where the otter whistles his mate, (They fear not men in the woods, Because they see so few.) You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet, And the swish of a skirt in the dew, Steadily cantering through The misty solitudes, As though they perfectly knew The old lost road through the woods… But there is no road through the woods.
As Europe goes back into lock down for everybody except for front line workers ( which now includes school teachers as well as health workers!), maybe Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem should be adapted to –
when the sun came out , the air was improbable with ladybirds. Everywhere I looked there were ladybirds landing fatly on the walls of the house, on the chairs, on my trousers. Before I can get close they disappeared slipping and into cracks , easing their fat ways in between the door frame and the door – all looking for somewhere to spend the winter where they will be warm and safe.
I will find them all winter long and in the spring they will emerge from the safe cracks and if they’re lucky will be liberated to start the spring. If they’re unlucky they die of exhaustion and get swept up in the winter.
Out in the countryside the farmers are harvesting the maize and the noise is tremendous. Fuming about man-made disruption, I walked into the forest and acorns rained down all around me from the oak trees. It sounded like hail and I was glad of my hat as they pinged around me and clattered down heavily from the branches overhead.
In the countryside the farmers were harvesting maize with a roar of machinery that sent me into the forestin search of peace. Acorns were raining down as loud as hail: ricocheting off branches and trunks and I was grateful for my bike hat as the acorns whizzed passed my ears.
When I was out of the woods there was a new noise as a great flock of migrating pigeons made a cloud of sound over my head. Their wings pushed stockily against the breaking clouds and I could hear the very rattle of their feathers .
They are off to find a place to feed and fatten away from the coming winter , just like the ladybirds.
I took my cue and turned home to light the fire in the stove which always makes me feel as safe and as snug as a bug in a rug!
Covid is still keeping guests away and me inside, but I can still step over it and go into the garden.
The delivery man is amused by it, the cats are bemused by it and it just keeps on growing.
If it is a metaphor for the insidious growth of the virus, then when winter eventually kills it, we will all be set free . If it is a metaphor for theresilience of nature, then I shall leave it to grow. If it is a metaphor for my sloth then I should hack it back.
As planning for the future seems impossible these days, I shall live the metaphor and do absolutely nothing at all and just wait and see what the tendril does next.
We may feel cribbed and confined by a world on hold, but the clouds still race by and the seasons turn and turn again even though we can’t believe the calendar has moved on.
It turns out that the beautiful is much closer than we realised and that clouds fly by with even greater freedom unentangled by the nets of jet vapour trails.
There are flocks of chaffinches arriving already from the north to feast on the mast from the beech trees. The bend of the road, by the cow pasture, is greasy with the walnuts crushed by cars tyres. The apple press next door is working ten hours a day to crush a bumper crop of apples into juice and sweet cider from the heavy laden trees of the three countries that touch branches just here .
So much that is vaunted as huge technological advance is just an excuse for us all having to buy and use yet more machines.
This is especially the case in education.
A simple class quiz on the whiteboard, or even blackboard, that children needed a pen and paper to take part in, now requires every child to have a smart phone or tablet, the teacher to be able to project the quiz onto a very expensive smart board and the results to be generated and stored on an electricity guzzling cloud .
We are told this is environmentally better because no paper is used and we are supposed to be stupid enough not to recognise the enormous environmental impact of requiring every child/teacher/classroom to have a computer and to be using google or any of the thousands of other platforms/ browsers that store and send information, at real cost from cloud to heat belching super computer, across the whole globe.
This does not make children smarter or happier. It just makes money for the technology giants and we have all been suckered in. It is the ultimate emperor’s new clothes and teachers have been too afraid to point out the pitiful nakedness of the emperor for fear of being called old fashioned and ultimately of losing their jobs.
I am soon to leave the teaching profession after a very long time teaching English literature and language and there is nothing at all that electronic technology has added to the teaching of my subject.
It is however useful for protecting turtle eggs on tropical beaches.
I watched huge leatherback turtles deposit tiny translucent ping pong ball eggs in the sand in the wonderful dark of a Costa Rican beach years ago and I was delighted to read that technology is helping track those who steal and eat the eggs today.
I read “The Map of Knowledge” by Violet Moller and it blew me away, as the Americans say.
I was blown away because I was conscious yet again of how stunningly little I know and how much there is to know and how little time there is in a puny human life.
Moller encapsulates all of the lost ancient knowledge through the cities that valued it and protected it after the destruction of the Greek world. She follows Gallen, Euclid and Ptolemy texts as they escape the flames of the library of Alexandria , the Mongol destruction of the Abbasids culture and the Christian attempts to bury ancient learning in Western Europe.
Reading this wonderful book inspired me to watch the film “Agora”about the female philosopher and mathematician Hypatia who never stopped working on the true circulation of the planets even as bigotry and fundamentalism closed in on her and finally killed her as the Hellenic world took to Christianity.
I then read “The Swerve” by Stephen Greenblatt by which is a wonderful exploration of the survival of a single pre Christian book, which was neither about medicine nor mathematics. To my great ￼shame I had never even heard of the original text which is “The Nature of Things “ ( De Rerum Natura) by Lucretius , but I had heard at least of the philosopher who inspired it: Epicurus.
“The Swerve” is an account of how a 15th century scholar called Poggio trawled through the libraries of European monasteries deliberately looking for forgotten ancient books. He struck gold when he discovered a copy of “The Nature of Things.” This poem written in about 50 BC explains that all life is made of atoms, that the Gods, if they exist at all, have not the slightest interest in humanity; that there is no reward in the afterlife and that our bodily atoms just return to be reused in the cycle of life.
This does not seem so remarkable an idea now to many people, but for more than two thousandyears these ideas were incendiary and the survival of the book at all is extraordinary. Goldblatt shows how the discovery of this lost book made possible the rebirth of scholarship that is known as the Renaissance and how this laid the foundation for our modern world.
Of course I had to try reading “The Nature of Things “ for myself. It is written in wonderfully sinuous poetry and this was so unexpectedly beautiful that I almost could not take it seriously. When the poetry gives way to denser science I find myself giving up and returning to “Just William” but between these two poles of experience I will keep reading, stay sane and use that breathless perspective of learning and history to weather the coming winter .