Rainy day thinking

I think this one is Rhodymenia pseudopalmata – rosy fan weed

It’s a rainy day today, although the wind has died back a bit and the temperature has dropped a little further. We managed to get out for a walk down to the beach during a break in the weather and Madame collected seaweeds and pebbles to draw while I dozed in the sun watching a common seal popping its head out of the water from time to time, giving me a thorough inspection. The curiosity was mutual, I’m bound to say but I’m intrigued at our sentimental attitude towards a pretty serious predator. This sentimentalisation of the animals is almost encouraged by the kind of natural history films that present nature as a comforting spectacle full of anthropomorphised animals whose every action reflects the finest human values.

Anyway, rainy days are great for reading challenging books and I haven’t been able to read more than about 20 pages of Jacques Ellul’s “The technological society” at any one time without taking a break. I could say that I wished I’d read it when it was first published in 1957 but, aged eleven, my French was at the la plume de ma tante stage under the merciless eye of Whacker Allan whose Parisian pronunciation constantly got me into trouble, driving around on holidays in Provence.

Perhaps now is the perfect time to take it on, though, because my entire life has been lived since his forensic takedown of the more idealistic post-war twentieth century sociology. The last chapter of his book is a prophetic look at the year 2000 which did not have the ‘benefit’ of living through currency crashes, pandemics, monetarism and economic game theories, mass migration, energy wars, environmental catastrophe and the rise and rise of computing; and it’s been much worse than he predicted. On the plus side, I am learning a great deal about the underlying reasons for our lemming like rush to the cliffs.

Apart from reading and looking at seals – which we always seem to spot accidentally – we’re pretty much on our own here. The sensible walkers, having looked at the weather forecasts – have nearly all gone home and there’s just out of season people like us, and a few birders dragging their giant scopes and cameras along the clifftops. There’s no garden to speak of where we’re staying, just a deep valley lined with impenetrable brambles, blackthorn and hawthorn towards the top and then shrubby willows down towards the stream that flows out across the small beach. At the back we’re surrounded by elderly apples, shriven by the constant gales. It’s a perfect environment for birds and so we can spend hours looking down the valley with binoculars.

On the clifftop, apart from a brain teasing array of gulls; there are carrion crows, rooks, chough and jackdaw as well as the jays in the valley. Most of them are easier to identify by their calls if they’re at a distance; but the choughs seem to have the extraordinary ability to perform 360 degree rolls when they’re showing off. Our quiet clifftop walk yesterday was accompanied by the crashing of waves thrown up by the wind driven swell, punctuated by fighter planes roaring overhead and a single engined plane nearby that was performing similar tricks to the chough – barrel rolls, diving and looping the loop. Three ages of flight charting the unstoppable growth of technology and culminating in the formidable killing machines that can fly from here to Northern Ireland and back in the time it takes us to walk down from the cottage.

Sadly we’re here just that bit later this year and so it looks as if the field mushrooms have either come and gone – or perhaps they’re waiting for more clement weather. The circle of fairy ring mushrooms is there at the end of the footpath. They’re easy to dry and string together to hang in the kitchen and although they’re not in the porcini league they make a decent contribution to a stock. Apart from that there are loads of psilocybin as well – which would probably make an even more interesting stock but I’m a bit of a coward when it comes to hallucinogens.

Time will come, I think, when the war on drugs will finally end and we shall be reading even more breathless articles from the selfsame journalists who were all for banging up recreational drug users for life – singing the praises of the new wonder drugs and printing verbatim the press releases they get from big pharma who’ll want to get in on the act as well. Cynical … moi? I’ve always remembered James Belsey, leading reporter on the local paper in the days when that meant something, saying to me – “Dave you’ve got to remember that journalists are bone idle and if you write their copy for them you’re much more likely to get it in the paper”.

What ails you?

As I was reading today the question popped into my mind whether Amish farmers, who avoid any kind of modern technology, have capitulated to the spirit of the age. From a bit of fairly shallow research it seems that not all Amish farmers are organic and some may even use chemicals. I’ll carry on investigating because it would make an interesting study . But in the course of following that question up I realised that to characterise organic farming, the rewilding movement and the innovative grazing systems now being explored as sentimental and backward looking is precisely to miss the point. One thing about technological society (mechanical mind if you like) is its capacity to sweep up small inventions made across history and amalgamate them into emergent technologies. We can’t save the earth by regressing to an imagined golden age but we have to move into the future with all the challenges and dangers that the technological mind presents, and make it safer and more sustainable for the earth and all its creatures including us and beginning with the grail question – “what ails you?”

Where to start?

Good birding weather

2019-09-03 11.06.08

If it looks cold and windy in the photo that’s because it is! Ravenglass is a pretty exposed place in a rather wet and windy part of the UK.  However the Potwell Inn is made of stern stuff and today we put on our precautionary waterproofs and set off to explore the coastal path as it winds south down the tidal estuary to the place where the Esk joins the Mite and the Irt – that’s a lot of rivers, a whole landscape of tidal mud and sand and a birder’s paradise.  It’s also a very good place to discuss a divorce if you only brought one pair of binoculars. Luckily I’d decided not to wear my Breughel style peasant hat which muffles my hearing, and I put on the Tilley “Outback” which I wear without corks. It is very vulnerable to strong winds unless it’s lashed down with the chin strap, and so it spent part of the time floating away from me in a pool. Hatless, I was able to listen to the birds (which requires no expensive technology) while Madame scanned the horizon. The evidence that this is a superb feeding ground for waders is everywhere in the countless empty shells littering the shore in drifts.

Birdwise this probably isn’t the best time of year, and with such a wide area for them to range across we really needed a telescope to be sure what we were seeing. Way across the river I spotted what might have been a Common Tern,  but couldn’t be sure.  A juvenile black headed gull was forlornly following an oystercatcher around in a strange holiday romance, but we watched and heard a curlew, masses of oystercatchers, gulls, a little egret and many other waders we couldn’t identify, not to mention a couple of distant possible carrion crows. I’d love to have spent a couple of hours there with a decent telescope.

What was especially good for me was the highly specialised plant environment, and I found a massive stand of Samphire (Glasswort), Sea Mayweed, Sea Aster, Sea Purslane and Annual Seablight.  The Samphire immediately brought the thought of foraging to my mind.  There’s a theory – often called ‘the tragedy of the commons’ that suggests that when a valuable or saleable common resource is found it’s inevitable (human nature?) that someone will strip it out for profit and without regard to it’s survival – “If I don’t take it someone else will”. Not so long ago the authorities in charge of Epping Forest had to ban fungus foragers who were stripping the forest and selling their plunder to high-end restaurants. It’s a practice that appears to demand regulation, policing and possibly sanctions.

It seems, though that ancient and primal societies had little difficulty in maintaining their ecosystems because their cultures were non-dualistic.  They didn’t regard the natural world as property to be exploited at will by the strongest, but saw themselves as being a part of the whole and responsible both for it and to it. They would have viewed our economic system as a form of madness.  To the statement “If I don’t take it someone else will” they would have asked “But who would do that?” It would be as silly as stealing money from yourself. I could go on but I’d rather post some photos of the plants and habitat here.