Tuesday, October 26, 2010

First there was bird-song . . .

From choice, I would write to you about the stories that make me smile, incidents to make you laugh. But there is only sadness in this story.
Why share it? Because I think it's important.

"First there was birdsong,"wrote the sage, "then birds were created to sing."

It's a beautiful and thought-provoking statement, but, as of this moment, it is also incredibly poignant.

Birds have formed an integral part of my life. From my country childhood, to work with the BBC Natural History Unit, right up until the present day, when fat-balls and peanut-holders dangle outside the third-floor windows of my London flat. There have always been birds.

But, in our fast-changing world, there is nothing you can take for granted. I say that because I've been talking to a friend who recently returned from a holiday in Italy. He and his wife chose to visit a peaceful, rural area well away from the tourist traffic, an area known only for its agriculture and extensive forests. My friend is a keen photographer. He takes his camera on holidays for the purpose of recording the wildlife, in particular the birds.

On this recent holiday to Italy, apart from the ubiquitous pigeons and seagulls, it appeared that they saw - and heard - no birds. No birds in the peaceful forests, no birds flying low over the vineyards, no birds roosting in the eaves of the sun-baked houses. No birds. The countryside around them had been silent.

Where had the birds gone? My friend made enquiries of the villagers, but met only with resigned confirmation that the birds
were no longer to be seen.

Such things happen so gradually, so imperceptibly. As in the case of the missing Italian song-birds, it isn't until a seemingly indestructible and vital part of the eco-system has disappeared completely that we realise what we've lost, how silent the world has become.

Did you catch a glimpse of any butterflies this year? When did you last see a hedgehog? And what about those clouds of starlings that once patterned the evening sky . . . have you seen them recently?
On a more practical note, did you know that in parts of China the farm workers are having to pollinate the fruit trees by hand? Indiscriminate and excessive use of powerful pesticides has caused the mass extinction of the once prolific pollinating insects.

No living species should become extinct on account of our heavy footprint on the earth. In our blinkered self-obsession, have we failed to see that we need the birdsong, we need the birds?
Not for our selfish enjoyment, not even out of respect for the myriad forms of creation, of which we are but one. Quite simply, because, in a totally inter-dependent eco-system, without the birds, the bees and the butterflies there will be no human beings.

By a beautiful irony, we have become the cuckoo in the nest, the over-sized cuckoo who is throwing out all rivals in our greedy, short-sighted demand for the earth's dwindling and finite food supply.

And wait a moment . . . just think about it . . . when did you last hear a cuckoo?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

We can't eat money

Have you come across this Cree proverb?

I never thought I'd say this, but may we muse for a moment on the thorny topic of money?

After all, what is money? What is the true nature of this commodity that we value so disproportionately? It isn't a growing part of the created world. On the contrary, it is entirely man-made, a substitute for the reality it represents . . . a shadow . . . an illusion . . . a mirage. Yet we all know that the craving for money is addictive, and those who set their sights on accumulating a vast fortune never reach a point of satisfaction.

So why does money exert such a hold on all of us? Is it beautiful in its own right? Hardly, whatever form it takes, be it metal, paper or plastic, its beauty lies entirely in the eyes and mind of the beholder.

How, then, have our values become so distorted that the possession of money, vast amounts of money, is now considered a positive virtue, whilst those sitting atop the largest piles are automatically elevated to unquestioned positions of eminence in society?

It's as though we've become bewitched by our own invention . . . seduced by the substitute that we once devised for the simple purpose of barter.
This obsession isn't logical. It isn't reasonable. Can the grubby fistfull of paper and coins that we hand over in exchange for a concert ticket offer the joy of music? Can a plastic credit card, however large the bank balance it represents, offer warmth and shelter? I suppose that pound notes, if accumulated and ignited, could provide some temporary warmth. However, it would be a very short-lived and ineffectual blaze.

Our current financial system, as an American economist wrote recently, is 'a money game in which the players use money to make money for people who have money, without producing anything of value'.

But, even as I sit here typing this letter to you, a thought has struck me. This stuff that dominates our lives does have one redeeming feature. In fact, I would even suggest that this fact alone raises our dubious invention from the ranks of 'curse' to that of 'blessing'.

Money is good for one thing . . . you can give it away!

It has, after all, a similar quality to water. Left standing and confined money stagnates . . . allowed to flow free it is beneficial to everything it passes. A steady trickle from the over-stocked reservoirs of the West could bring life and hope to the arid deserts and parched plains in the rest of the world.

The Cree Indians are right. Money of itself won't nourish the trees, restore life to hunted animals, clean the polluted waters, or purify the air . . . but, if we give it away, freely and willingly, in pursuit of these aims, who knows, we may yet save our beleaguered planet.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Calling all orbs!

What is it about a good book that instantly converts its reader into an evangelist?
A book that's fired me is the one I've just finished, "Countdown to Coherence" by Hazel Courteney.
I say that I've finished it, but that's not strictly accurate. I may have reached the final page, but this is by no means the end. This book is, in itself, a launch-pad . . . a launch-pad to a continuing spiritual journey.

Hazel Courteney takes her reader on an intriguing scientific and spiritual quest, during which she travels worldwide in search of luminaries in the many fields that she investigates. All the interviews are absorbing, much that she covered was totally new to me, but, after my own experience with orbs, it was her enquiry into this phenomenon that particularly captured my attention.

Amongst many other things, I learned that orbs appear eager not only to make contact, but also to respond to our requests for their presence.

This statement made me sit up in my seat . . . it perfectly mirrored my own experiences.
Do you remember what happened at the Tyburn Convent? After repeated photographs had revealed no orbs, I pleaded under my breath for them to show up on the camera . . . and, to my amazed delight, they did.

But let's bring the orb story up-to-date. Last month (two years and over three hundred orb photos later) a friend kindly bought tickets for us to attend the Monteverdi "Vespers" at the Albert Hall. It was to be the penultimate concert of the 2010 Proms season. However, a week before the event, her husband was taken into hospital and she urged me to offer her ticket to someone else. Sadly, I agreed . . . promising that I'd take my camera.
If she couldn't be there, I told her, I would photograph the orbs for her to enjoy afterwards.

It was a rash promise . . . a stupid promise. After making it I could have kicked myself.
How could I possibly guarantee orbs at the Albert Hall? My friend didn't deserve to be disappointed on top of all her anxiety.

But, as you can see, the orbs overlooked my stupidity and collaborated. Whether it was in response to my plea, or to the transcendent beauty of the music, they made an appearance and joined the audience in the final rapturous applause.

Orbs, so Hazel Courteney was told, make themselves apparent on digital cameras in response to the photographer's request. It may be hard to believe, but my experience encourages me to believe that this is true.

Last week I was invited to take Chloe to an Animal Blessing at our local church.
"I wonder if there'll be any orbs?" said Shelagh, a friend who has recently photographed some beautiful orbs in France.
"I'll be far too busy keeping Chloe in check to even think of orbs!" I retorted.

But Chloe was on her very best behaviour and, remembering Shelagh's remark, I turned my camera towards the altar and . . . yes . . . in response to my hopeful plea, there were this beautiful orb.

Relationships never stay the same, they grow and deepen or they diminish. My relationship with orbs has grown from initial amazement and disbelief to a stage of profound gratitude and confidence. A confidence that these incredible, radiant presences (what else can I call them?) will respond. A confidence that they are every bit as much aware of me as I am of them.

I say that, and it is true . . . but, nonetheless, it is impossible to be anything other than deeply moved and incredulous each time an orb appears . . . and, surely, that is how it should be?

Wouldn't you agree that to make contact, albeit momentarily, with an invisible body of consciousness is something beyond words . . . something that I can only call an awesome blessing?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Six in a bed!

Have you time for another story about my exuberant young cat? It won't take long to read and I think you'll enjoy it.

It amazes me what I can sleep through. Not only am I undisturbed by Chloe getting in and out of bed during the night, but I wake up most mornings to find the flat strewn with toys, the furniture askew, the mats out of place, and happy mayhem in the bathroom. All of which has taken place whilst I've been sleeping peacefully.
But I've met my Nemesis . . . toy mice!

Look at this photo carefully . . . it's Chloe with a packet of toys bestowed on her the other week by a loving admirer. It's a packet of toy mice. Did you happen to notice something significant about those toy mice? Were you studying them closely enough to see the small silver blobs on the end of their tails?
This is significant, very significant. Those silver blobs are bells and although by daylight the tinkling is barely discernible, come three o'clock in the morning, come the same mice with the same tails arriving in your bed . . . believe me the raucous tinkling of those bells is enough to waken the dead!

Chloe has a warm and spontaneous nature. In the middle of the
night she is intent only on giving me pleasure. In her mind, as she goes to her toy-basket and ferrets around, she is generously finding me a present. She arrives back in the bedroom purring with satisfaction, the tinkling mouse in her mouth, and pushes it affectionately into my sleeping cheek. I thank her blearily and, after a short game (very half-hearted on my part), manage to tuck the mouse discreetly under the pillow.

Chloe, who thinks that I've lost her gift, is in no way discouraged. Within minutes she has appeared with another which she wedges firmly into my chest before snuggling down beside me.
In due course I am forced to welcome a third . . . and then a fourth . . . if we both stay very still, I wonder wearily, will this stop the hidden bells from tinkling and might we get some badly needed sleep?
Finally . . . we do!

You wouldn't, I suppose, like to offer a sleep-over to a very endearing small cat, just to give me a night's untroubled rest?
No, I didn't think you would!