Richard Jefferies and six legged friends

picnic For those of us who are on the fringes of warm weather, we are now compelled to open the windows and usher in the new day with gentle breezes. And as we welcome the longer days of sunshine we also may find that the beauty of spring comes with a small price. For some, the mornings may welcome the chirping of birds or there are those who may turn over and wish them away for though the term, “getting up with the birds” may look good on paper, it is not always something we wish for ourselves.

The quiet of winter is replaced with a more noisy spring for along with the lovely carpet-like lawns comes the droning noise of the mowers. And from under the ground that was formerly dormant and hidden has awakened with the budding of flowers, leaving us once again sharing our homes and gardens with insects and other small critters. Try as we may to keep them at bay, the little devils are with us again, bringing havoc to the most civilized of picnics.

So, open your hearts and oil your bicycle chains, warm weather is here with all its glory and all its pesky six legged friends. And just think… summer sunburns are just around the corner!

Richard Jefferies 2 Today’s post brings back English writer, Richard Jefferies, (1848-1887). An author who was noted as being a compassionate man that found and wrote about the esthetics of nature. His popularity as an author has gone in and out of vogue; however those who are drawn to the writings of rural life will surely find his work appealing.

I now bid you to take a bit of time out from your hectic day to walk among the flowers with Mr. Jefferies. From his essay, “Some April Insects” we are invited to share with him his observations about “the bee”.

“…Any one delicate would do well to have a few such flowers in spring under observation, and to go out of doors or stop in according to their indications. I think there were four species of wild bee at these early flowers, including the great bombus and the small prosopis with orange-yellow head. It is difficult to scientifically identify small insects hastily flitting without capturing them, which I object to doing, for I dislike to interfere with their harmless liberty. They have all been named and classified, and I consider it a great cruelty to destroy them again without special purpose. The pleasure is to see them alive and busy with their works, and not to keep them in a cabinet. These wild bees, particularly the smaller ones, greatly resented my watching them, just the same as birds do. If I walked by they took no heed; if I stopped or stooped to get a better view they were off instantly. Without doubt they see you, and have some idea of the meaning of your various motions. The wild bees are a constant source of interest, much more so than the hive bee, which is so extremely regular in its ways. With an explosion almost like a little bomb shot out of a flower; with an immense hum, almost startling, boom! the great bombus hurls himself up in the air from under foot; well named—boom—bombus…”

First image: F. Graetz, 1884. India ink over pencil on bristol board

Esteemed thinker: Richard Jefferies

nest Leftovers are usually thought of as food that we will eat later’; sometimes because we want to and other times because we feel guilty. In restaurants there is even a word for the container we put our uneaten food at the end of our meal. This is the ‘doggy bag’ however, one has to wonder if the dog ever really sees this food. And then, does this mean that if we do not have a dog we are taking the food under false pretences?

The term leftover seems to be a human word, used for things we will relegate and save for later. However, is it possible that the idea of leftovers can also be in the animal kingdoms? For example; when taking a walk in winter and early spring, right when the tress are leafless or just before the buds open, up in the highest boughs one can observe nests; large and small nests that were constructed quite eloquently, for they are nestled securely for a bird family, and probably quite comfortable. But during these times of years, when we can see them quite clearly , they are empty…as we would say…no one is home. Which gets us thinking, are these habitats leftovers? If another bird came along would its vacancy give it “squatter’s rights”?

Richard Jeffries Today’s blog invites you to learn about a bit about the esteemed thinker: Richard Jefferies (1848-1847). English born author, Jeffries wrote during the latter portion of Victorian England, whose affinity for nature and rural life is evidenced in his work. Unknown today by most readers, his influence on other greats such as W.H. Hudson, Edward Thomas, Henry Willaimson, and John Fowles has been noted. In his early career he was a reporter for the North Wilts Herald, a Tory newspaper based in Swindon. In 1878 in the Pall Mall Gazette a series of 24 articles under the title “The Gamekeeper at Home”, based on memories. As time went on he took his pen to fiction, where he became established as the foremost natural history and country writer of his day.

And so in keeping with his reputation as a naturalist, I bring to you a bit of rural life among the “birds”. Here is a snippet from Richard Jeffries essay, Bird’s Nest. And next time you are out, look up and you may see those architectural wonders built by our two legged friends, the birds.

“…The nest requires a structure round it like a cage, so that the fledglings might be prevented from leaving it till better able to save themselves. Those who go to South Kensington to look at the bird’s-nest collection there should think of this if they hear any one discoursing on infallible instinct on the one hand, or evolution on the other. These two theories, the infallible instinct and that of evolution, practically represent the great opposing lines of thought—the traditional and the scientific. An examination of birds’ nests, if conducted free of prejudice, will convince any independent person neither that the one nor the other explains these common hedge difficulties. Infallible instinct has not supplied protection for the young birds, nor has the experience of hundreds of years of nest-building taught the chaffinch or the missel-thrush to give its offspring a fair start in the famous ‘struggle for existence.’ Boys who want linnets or goldfinches watch till the young are almost ready to bubble over, and then place them in a cage where the old birds come and feed them. There is, then, no reason why the nest itself should not be designed for the safety of the fledgling as well as of the egg. Birds that nest in holes are frequently very prolific, notably the starling, which rears its brood by thousands in the hollow trees of forests. Though not altogether, in part their vast numbers appear due to the fact that their fledglings escape decimation…

…To understand birds you must try and see things as they see them, not as you see them. They are quite oblivious of your sentiments or ideas, and their actions have no relation to yours. … They look at the matter from the very opposite point of view. The more thoroughly the artificial system of natural history ethics is dismissed from the mind the more interesting wild creatures will be found, because while it is adhered to a veil is held before the eyes, and nothing useful can ever be discovered. “

First Image: 1879 lithograph
Second Image: Richard Jeffries; from the bust by Miss Margaret Thomas, in Salisbury Cathedral.