As a child I learnt to see a lion’s ear, in the spear grass. I saw the leopard draped across the dappled tree. Attenborough’s Africa took me back to the place I was born.
Tsavo,Serengeti, Samburu, Nandi, Naivasha, Mombasa, Masai Mara,Malindi,Amboseli…the names are all there in my heart.
I wonder if my children will see the animals Africa shows us, in Africa, or only at Longleat? Will they see the subtle patterned coat of the reticulated giraffe, or the remarkable painted stripes of the Grevy’s zebra?
One day there will be a last wild lion waiting in the grass, so hard to spot, so at one with its surroundings. One day all the animals will have been taken out of Africa.
The Prior of the Taize Community which is in deep connection with young people from Africa and around the world, has said recently that believers need to talk together about faith, but also with agnostics and atheists.
One area that we need to talk with all others about, and form alliances and networks, is about the environment, the natural world, the living planet. The word Kalahari means ‘the great thirst’ – an apt name for a desert.
We are people consumed with a great thirst for the wrong things. We will make the world a desert. We are like the Cuckoo, there is only room in the earthnest for us.
Saving the earthnest will require a pilgrimage of trust in each other, those who believe in the quest.
We need hope. As one of Emily Dickinson’s poems (no. 623):
It was too late for Man-
But early, yet, for God-
‘The wild otter I saw would no doubt be out of the water and making tracks to its own musky holt, to curl belly upward, in a home of roots, peat and rocks. I imagine him enfolded in his fur, dreaming of water; a tight sleep-knot, enjoying the deep sleep of one who exists totally in the moment.’ ( Miriam Darlington, Otter Country, pp.40-41)
‘Up and down the banks are the complex root systems of ash trees, which otters particularly love to use as holts as they provide hidden shelter and easy access to water.’ (Otter Country, p.175)
As I read these words I imagined the roots of the ash tree making a coracle, floating the otter to sleep in its hidden shelter. So I drew this as a coracle sleep-knot.
The ash tree root
for the otter
of the wild
not going meek and mild.
I’ve been re-reading Miriam Darlington’s luminous book Otter Country: in search of the wild otter, published by Granta Books.
I noticed two phrases I hadn’t noticed first time:
‘Ash trees are most popular with otters because their roots from a complicated system of shelter below ground, and re often right by or even overhanging the water, so that the otter can slip subtly in and out.’ p.77
‘Up and down the banks are the complex root systems of ash trees, which otters particularly love to use as holts as they provide hidden shelter and easy access to the water.’ p. 175
I have been entranced by the otter following Miriam Darlington’s description of them, where it as if she has become the otter. I have been left wondering if the otter is at increased risk and threatened by the Ash tree crisis? They live together, the ash tree and the otter.
Does anyone know?
Rare sharing OtteR tracked to British Library. Read about how OtteRs share their country with us in Miriam Darlington’s Otter Country and how we can share their country with them. For OtteRs swim where they will.
In ‘The Roots of Christian Mysticism’ by Olivier Clement there is a fragment of a quote from Paul Claudel talking about the art of Japanese painters. This is in a chapter entitled The Glory of God Hidden in His Creatures and the quote says ‘for them, the visible world was a perpetual allusion to Wisdom, like that great tree which, with unutterable majesty, says No to evil for us’ (p.223).
Paul Claudel apparently had a profound conversion to Catholicism at the age of 18. I can’t be sure what great tree he is talking about, but the tree that sprung to my mind was the mysterious tree ‘of the knowledge of good and evil’ (Genesis 2:17).
What struck me about what Claudel might be helping us to understand is why this mysterious tree is there in Genesis. Maybe it is called the tree of the knowlege of good and evil, to help us say No to evil – it is an eco-No. Claudel also said in La Ville, ‘A pure eye and a fixed gaze see every object becoming transparent in front of them'(p.222, Clement).
The great tree is there in Genesis to help us say No to evil, and perhaps that embodied Wisdom is in every tree. If we looked at any tree attentively enough, we might see the ‘No’ of God written in each leaf, the No to evil.
One of the great evils, therefore, is how we treat trees and the rest of Creation. The obvious example is the continued destruction of the rain forest. It seems that the eco-No was there in the beginning. Wisdom sits in the tree, and we need to notice it.
‘And what is a compassionate heart?..It is a heart that burns for all creation, for the birds, for the beasts, for the devils, for every creature. When he thinks about them, when he looks at them, his eyes fill with tears. So strong, so violent is his compassion….that his heart breaks when he sees the pain and the suffering of the humblest creature.’ (quoted in Olivier Clement, ‘The Roots of Christian Mysticism’, p. 227).
Christians who rediscover the ancient paths of contemplation will rediscover the possibility of seeing ‘every common bush afire with God’ (Gerard Manley Hopkins). They will rediscover a heart that burns for all creation.