Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,Henry Reed, “Naming of parts” 1942
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.
I love the way that, when I’m writing, images and ideas surface in my mind. My first thought when I sat down to write this post was that these four Cranesbills would have been exactly the species which inspired William Morris in his designs. Next I pondered for a while (it’s 5.00am after a sleepless night) on the extraordinary fact that in nature these closely related species are so plentiful. Do we really need twelve of them (Harrap’s “Wild Flowers”). Colin French’s “Flora of Cornwall” lists 34 species and subspecies; such an abundance that the only possible conclusion is that abundance, excess and diversity are somehow hardwired into nature. To return to a previous thought, if Nature is structured like a language then this abundance represents the dialects; the regional and environmental inflections of the same idea – like each one of us; all (potentially) beautiful if only we could break out of the prison we create when we each see ourselves as the only show in town.
And then Henry Reed’s poem plopped into my mind and I had the clearest recollection of myself in my early teens, sitting in a hot and airless classroom and gazing longingly out of the window as our teacher struggled to interest us in this poem. Not me, though. The poem sold itself to me in an instant. Here was another human being, feeling exactly like me at that moment and I took it to constitute permission to daydream. I’m quite sure that our teacher had no such aim in mind, but that’s the dangerous and disruptive power of poetry.
I’m indebted to Alan Rayner, by the way, for the idea of walking in nature rather than through it. It came up during a long conversation on a Bath Natural History Society field outing when we were overtaken by a runner pounding by us and seeing nothing at all. This last fortnight the experience repeated itself endlessly as we stood and watched a Kestrel hovering, or knelt in the grass delicately uncovering Spring Squills or – in this specific instance paused to photograph no less than four species of Geranium along a quarter of a mile of sunken lane bordered on both sides by Cornish walls as butterflies jazzed around tracing marvellous curlicues in pursuit of rivals, mates or nectar.
Without that special kind of relaxed mindfulness none of this diversity would have been visible. I suppose you could go out after a specific quarry – some rare or interesting plant – and cover more ground – eventually dragging your photographic elk back to the cave; but my favourite way of walking in nature is to move slowly, turning up all the senses to ten and let the plants do the talking. I’m not sure what practical use this kind of meditation has, other than cleansing the mind of thoughts about the endless dishonesty and stupidity of some politicians or the grinding anxiety that all this beauty is being threatened by the greed and selfishness of war and oil. Perhaps that’s the link with the poem about sitting in a stuffy room and learning how to assemble and fire a rifle in the context of the Second World War.
Looking, seeing and beholding seem to me to constitute a hierarchy of mindful attention. For all the superficial similarities, each one of the Cranesbills is quite distinct. The shape of the leaves, for instance is crucial; compare the deeply incised lace-like divisions of the Cut-leaved Cranesbill in the larger photograph with the more modest Dove’s-foot Cranesbill in the centre of the strip of three to the left. Notice the fern like leaf of Herb Robert and the unusually pale flowers of the other * Dove’s-foot Cranesbill – each one an expression of the irrepressible creativity of Nature, and each one asking of us to name them because naming something – in a strange but powerful way – brings it into existence for us. The more we can name, the bigger the world becomes and the more intense our relationship with it. Even the word “Cranesbill” tells us something about the history of our language. If you look at the forming seed behind the flower at the top left – the Herb Robert – you might see the resemblance to a bird’s head and beak. But when was the last time that the sight of a Crane (the bird, I mean) was sufficiently commonplace to attach its name to a plant? Some centuries, I guess!
So it was farewell to Cornwall on Wednesday as we woke early and packed the campervan. This time we were on the Roseland peninsula, a very different place from the Lizard and a very different feel to the natural history as well. But we’ve already booked to return in September. Curiously, we were talking to our allotment neighbour when we got back and we discovered that without ever meeting one another we had been staying on the same campsite for over a decade. He was planning to drive down today for the half-term week. It’s a small world – worryingly and vulnerably small!
Back home, though, we turn our full attention to the allotment which – thanks to some good neighbours – survived the very hot weather, but urgently needs weeding and TLC.
*I submitted just one of what I initially thought were four species to the local BSBI Recorder – the marvellously skilled Ian Benallick for verification – and he corrected my identification earlier today, so apologies for any apoplexy caused by my mistake. His kind correction led me to double check all my ID’s in Tim Rich and A C Jermy’s “Plant Crib”. Geraniums, it seems, are a difficult group. Yet another example of the way we learn so much more from our mistakes than we do from our successes.
Having enjoyed every moment of sunshine on holiday, we spent some of today working at 35 C in the polytunnel which is now almost planted up with summer residents and looks lovely.