Lessons from an Owl

It’s morning and I am up early for a journey across Dartmoor to Totnes, a forward thinking town in Devon in the south west of the UK. Totnes is called ‘Narnia’ by some, an indication of what kind of place it is.

It’s on the south side of the moor and I live on the north side. On the journey just before you head up onto the moor from where I am, is a place called Tavistock, an ancient Stannery town where mined tin from the moor was weighed out and sold in the middle ages, it used to have an Abbey and is the birthplace of Francis Drake. I want to stop because it has a pannier market with arts, crafts and antiques. 

As I enter the market, the first thing I see is a huge owl, sat on the gloved hand of its handler. Big bright orange eyes and fair size – it’s a Bengal Eagle owl the handler tells me. I am spellbound, it’s not just its incredible beauty but its presence, an intense awareness – which feels total. I break away from its spell, feel a sorry for it not being free, chat a while to the handler then meander around the market and after a short time I leave and continue on my journey.

I head up onto the moor. The open expanse relaxes me on a deeper level and the tapestry of tawny colours remind me of the owl. I drive slowly, savouring it all.

Eventually, I come to the south side of the Moor and to a particular spot, which I can only say has come to represent my lost paradise – a ancient wooded valley with a stunning river flowing through the middle. I park up start to make my way down into the valley, get to the river, sit down and begin to tune into the magic.

After a couple of hours, having slowed right down and feeling completely invigorated, I climb back out of the valley. I decide to walk along the top on a route I don’t normally take. The views are amazing, and as with a lot of high panoramic views I begin to get a being a bird sort of feeling. An outcrop in the valley, known as Eagle Rock, falls into my vision and for the first time I really see why has that name – it has the distinct shape of a huge bird of prey perched on the tree canopy.

After a few moments of studying the rock, serendipitously, I look up and notice a buzzard gliding over the valley then remember the owl and its intensity of awareness. For a moment I feel it – I become that awareness, total connection to the whole valley, the wide open sky, yet with complete attention to every little detail below at the same time.

There is no thought, only complete immersive absorption with the environment.

The Origins of Gardening?

Image by Klaus-Peter Katzbach

Why is this a topic worth exploring? Perhaps it’s because the idea of gardening goes right to the core of our relationship with nature – our interaction with it, as well as progressing to farming and agriculture.

The origins of the word garden is thought to be from Proto-Indo European, from the root word meaning enclosure: Gher. Proto-Indo European is thought to have been spoken about 4500 BC and regarded as the root of most languages. So, if this true then maybe it can be taken as the idea of constructing boundaries so the land can be managed, but in the end is it not true all enclosed spaces are contained within another larger enclosure and so forth until we reach the largest enclosure, obviously forever expanding outwards but let us say for the moment, the biggest enclosure would be the whole planet – the biggest garden? Another thought to add ; we may enclose spaces but actually they can never be entirely enclosed, nature will always cross our constructed boundaries, so therefore the idea and pragmatic human use of enclosure may lead us into the illusion and consequential idea of separation, away from the truth which in nature everything is connected.

Perhaps though, the idea of gardening away from the root word is slightly different, and is more our interaction with nature. It seems to be generally thought from the various strands of archaeological academia, cultivation of plants and land started around 9000 to 10,000 BC, although I recently read an article in which 23000 BC is being claimed. Of course, this might not have been with the use of enclosure strictly speaking – if the use of enclosure is what we are using to determine the idea of gardening. If we are saying it is the manipulation or a more positive way of looking at it, our mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship with plants which is gardening then maybe it goes way further back, indeed, isn’t the symbiotic relationship between animals and plants one of the fundamental mechanisms of nature? and perhaps this is what we really need to look at; how mutually beneficial has it been, is now or can be in the future because we need and in a sense exist because of that relationship.

The pragmatic and productive part of gardening aside there is another whole side to gardening which has developed which shall we say is the aesthetic side. Who knows when this became an important thing to humans and what part it has played in our overall input to the larger environment? Polluting and damaging practises aside, obviously it is important to well being – the relaxing effect of the beauty of nature as well as a form of exercise and the benefits of nurturing but let us not forget all nature is interconnected; will our gardens not be even more beautiful if we create and tend them so they benefit the whole environment?