Just A Speck

A ride including some unfamiliar and enjoyable roads – from Thame down to Reading, taking in places like Tetsworth (great smell of creosote), Clare (to live in which, everyone ought to have to change their name to Clare), Pyrton (no pyres evident), Britwell Salome (nothing to suggest dead saint’s heads served on platters), Ewelme (no sheep, no elms, but watercress beds), Pigs Trough Bottom (I kid you not), Braziers Park (nothing burning), up Catsbrain Hill (no, no brains evident) and then down into the Thames Valley.

OK, I know these aren’t mountains or even particularly tough hills, and I accept that going up Catsbrain Hill is the easy way to climb over that particular hill range. Nevertheless, as I was heading out from Thame and looking south, the sight of that geographic barrier ahead did make me feel a bit dwarfed. I had this mental image of just how small a speck I was, moving across the landscape, powered only by my legs, with hills to climb and so on.

South Oxon hills to climb

I have to get up there

I don’t know if it’s good to feel small – it’s tempting to think humanity needs to be put in its place. It’s also possible to feel vaguely intimidated by big threatening autumnal skies (which thankfully came to nothing).

Cloudscapes dwarfing a mere cyclist

Cloudscapes dwarfing a mere cyclist

But then you look at the cut in the hills made for the M40 and that’s us humans carving nature to suit in a pretty chunky kind of way. And if it had all gone pear-shaped for me, I could have phoned someone to help me out, using mobile digital telecommunications that’s mind-boggling complicated and entirely ‘unnatural’ (if that concept’s at all valid), and there are aerials and what-not all around, including on top of the hills I’m climbing. Etc.

Carving up nature to suit

Carving up nature to suit

We humans do create a lot; we do impose our will to make the world as we want it to a very large extent. I suppose it all comes down to whether we can be sufficiently creative and sufficiently dominant to overcome our ever-present stupidities and failings.

Strange Sights?

Bluebell in sunlight in June

The hitherto unencountered

So, let’s say you’re a migrant bird flying in to England as normal in June. Hey up – what’s this? Bluebells. You don’t normally see bluebells; you’ve never seen bluebells before.

That’s quite conceivable, and I just wondered today while I was out up near Christmas Common whether that does occur in any way in the minds of animals; how do they see the world? Of course, the whole Dr Dolittle fantasy is common enough, one way or another. And I know that anthropomorphic thoughts aren’t really helpful. Nevertheless, it is something to muse on, however inconclusively, as the world changes. Even if animals are seeing the world merely in terms of survival strategies, those strategies still must include coping mechanisms for the hitherto unencountered.

Perhaps one of the keys to how the future will pan out will be which animals can best understand a changing world. I’m not sure humans are the best placed to survive.

Protect The Important

South of Reading, local councillors have decided too band to together to protect open spaces from being built on. They’re doing so because they’re being ignored by council officials at a borough level, and central government will do nothing to help.

I saw these snowdrops and aconites at Welford Park yesterday. I saw plenty of snowdrops while out riding today – a circuit taking in a pothole-strewn downhill from Checkendon and a sweat-inducing uphill slog to Woodcote.

If spring bulbs aren’t important to you then you’re possibly dead from the neck up. If open spaces aren’t important to you, then you’re possibly dead from the neck up. Even if these things aren’t important to you, if you can’t see that they’re important for lots of other people, then surely you’ve no right to be in a position to make decisions that will curtail the enjoyment of others.

We do not need more building. If we are to provide future populations with a decent quality of life then we need to protect open spaces. If you say that we need more building to house a growing population, then the only sensible response to that can be that we need to look at curbing the population. Low-quality life isn’t a worthy goal. We know that humans don’t respond well to over-crowding so why perpetuate it?

Welford Park snowdrops and aconites

“Let’s build on this too.”

Councillors south of Reading banding together.
Welford Park.
You could start here for over-crowding research.

Nature Notes From On High

Up on the Ridgeway for a ride with Charli – it seems like a long time has drifted by since our last ride up there. The difference is marked.

Of course, rain falls everywhere and it’s been very wet of late, but somehow you expect it to be dryer up high. It wasn’t, and the combination of chalk, flint and clay can make for more sideways travel than is ideal, but it wasn’t that bad; neither of us fell off.

The wind was strong and cold; all in all it would be easy to call it unwelcoming and, certainly, there were even fewer people around than normal, but it was by no means a hostile day. As always, making the effort has its rewards.

Cycling in the cold, with Didcot A and B power stations working hard as a backdrop.

Cycling in the cold, with Didcot A and B power stations working hard as a backdrop.

The change in the wildlife is marked. In addition to the ‘normal’ hedgerow birds you’d expect to see there were flocks of Starlings and Red Wings, plenty of Crows and any number of Rooks – in the main rooting about on the ploughed fields. There were more of both Buzzards and Red Kites than I’d noticed before too, and a few Kestrels around to complete the compliment of hunters. It’s been a good year for Pheasants; they’re everywhere – including up where we were.

Depressingly, humanity doesn’t change. A fair way away from anywhere, someone had gone to a stupid amount of trouble to dump a fridge. Pretty well where ever they’d come from, it would have been just as easy or easier to take it to a council tip. It is possible to despair when you think about who you have to share the planet with. People like this can drive cars, vote, breed …

A dumped fridge on the Ridgeway

We share the planet with the idiots who do this.

We Are Puny

I’m writing this after a day’s ride was curtailed by some quite foul conditions: heavy rain with a strong wind for accompaniment. (A Full Hengistbury on the Hengistbury Scale*.)

Alternatively, I’m writing this after the day’s ride was curtailed by my pathetic capitulation to some heavy rain and strong wind. Yes, I could have carried on; it wasn’t impassable or dangerous. It was merely unpleasant in South Oxon – somewhere on the wrong side of bracing.

Either way, my tiny, unimportant plan for a decent length ride didn’t happen. Still, I suppose there’s something to be said for being reminded how puny we are.

‘Sandy’, the storm that’s been doing so much damage first in the Caribbean and now in the USA and Canada, demonstrates human puniness with all the impassive, remorseless aplomb ascribable to dear ‘Mother Nature’.

I say there’s something to be said for being reminded of our human frailty but quite what that ‘something’ is, on reflection, I’m not sure. If you feel the need to be put in your place, just look up at the stars. Our puniness in the face of extreme natural events on Earth is one thing; the insignificance of even that puniness in the light of our position in the Universe is quite another.

I suppose the real upshot of it all is that we are unable to fully, truly comprehend or assimilate how feeble or insignificant we are. Instead, hope and resilience and all the similar, generally lauded, qualities triumph, if ‘triumph’ is the right word for the defeat of rationality.

*The Hengistbury Scale.

Notions Of Ambition

Today was another ride, with Charli helping on the plant identification front, where I’m noticing things that I must have seen but never noticed before; where I’m curious about things that I never used to be. And I continue to feel that life’s the better for noticing, for being curious about what’s around me.

Indian Balsam

Indian Balsam, here near Binfield Heath

What’s nagging at me a little is the ‘why’ of it – why do I feel able to take this different attitude now?

Just as a product of simple human limitation, I am sure there’s only so much that anyone can be actively interested in at any given time. Personal capacities will vary, but we all have a limit. That makes me wonder what I’m no longer interested in, what’s made room for noticing more, for this new-found curiosity in what’s all around me.

I think there’s a general social assumption that being engaged with the natural environment is something for only un-ambitious people, for ‘airy’ types, for ‘arty’ types … that sort of prejudice. In this scheme of things, I will have given up some high-powered job and become ‘at one with nature’ – or something similarly trite.

I’m pretty sure I never have – nor will – meet that stereotype; I’m no more or less ambitious than I ever have been; I haven’t ‘dropped out’ or any equivalent.

There are any number of underlying assumptions at work when ‘ambition’ is talked about in the common scheme of things, not least that being ambitious is somehow the norm, in some way ‘better’. And, of course, there are massive assumptions being made about what constitutes ambition in the first place: it presumes ambition equates to ‘getting on’ – earning more, a ‘good’ career, steps up in social status (of the variety that can be bought), accumulating possessions and so on.

An ambition to, say, know the names of all the plants you might reasonably expect to come across in southern England isn’t in that world view. That sort of ambition is rarely lauded.

Strangely, if my experience is at all applicable to others – and why shouldn’t it be? – then society’s approach of promoting an acquisition-based model of ‘ambition’ at the expense of curiosity for the natural world is also at the expense of the happiness of citizens. For society to not be working for the common good is, at best, odd.

A field of Field Scabious

A field of – appropriately – Field Scabious