• I saw a hare… where?

    A hare standing in a grass field
    The photo I didn’t get (Photo by Vincent van Zalinge)

    “Here hare here”

    So says the note found by Uncle Monty on the door of his Cumbrian cottage in the classic 1980s film Withnail & I. But the hare – that larger cousin of the common rabbit that few of us are very sure about – is not something you see here, there or anywhere. 

    Until today. 

    Today I walked within a couple of metres of a real live hare, startled it, and then watched it lollop across the field to the far hedge for a few minutes. I couldn’t believe how big it was. I knew they were bigger than rabbits, but I didn’t know they were that big. 

    Strange thing is, I grew up in rural Herefordshire. I’ve recently spent another few years in a Herefordshire wood, and yet my first sighting of a hare was on a scrubby field next to the fast encroaching urban sprawl of southern Malmö – Sweden’s third largest city. 

    Sweden has wildlife

    I know this. The elk, the bears, the reindeer. This is a country with proper outdoors. By regional standards, it’s populous – but it still has a population the size of London in a country the size of Spain. 

    But Hyllie – a suburb that has sprung up next to The Bridge to Copenhagen – doesn’t scream wildlife hotspot. In mid-November, it looks like some bleak noir version of Dubai. Cranes, bricks, dust, mud, piercing security lights, diggers, noise, tower blocks, etc. 

    My apartment is in the midst of all this. Funny thing is, there are rabbits living in the building site outside my bedroom window. They scurry all over the building sites. And now their larger cousin, the hare, keeping to itself a field or two away. 

    Nature surprises you where you least expect it. 

    Since we’re getting back to nature, Ever Wanted To Be A Bear?

  • If we go local do we end up divided?

    To drop in or drop out? (Photo by Karim MANJRA)

    If we all go local, will the walls go up? It’s a paradox I mused on this week when I visited Hay Festival to see the incredible Spell Songs – a musical reimagining of Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris’ The Lost Words – a book that’s spawning its own eco-activist movement. 

    Extinction rebellion!

    Everything right now happens in the shadow of Greta Thunberg – the Swedish teen who is bringing the adults of the world to attention about the crisis of climate change. So, too, Hay Festival. Her presence was everywhere in talks on every environmental subject of importance. 

    No more air miles

    Greta has famously given up on air travel. She visits European leaders by train from Stockholm. Her stance is common. I know many who have limited or abstained from planes, cars and anything that has been brought a long way to reach them. 

    There’s a balancing act here. If we go local enough for long enough, will we simply develop silos? Stop flying. Go offline. Eat food grown within thirty miles of your doorstep. All cool. But limiting. 

    If we all followed through on this for long enough, would we simply reinvent the pre-industrial age? Would foreigners become like fairytale beasts? Would the diversity of the world start to evaporate from our minds? 

    I am an internationalist

    For those who prize internationalism over nativism, climate change offers a tightrope. You wanna do all the right things, but you wanna keep waving to the others over there. You wanna stay connected.

    It’s a sweet irony that climate change offers a rather neat excuse for nativists and protectionists the world over, and yet they are generally ideologically inclined towards denial. 

    The right spells

    What I saw from Spell Songs at Hay Festival was eco activism. It was from-the-gut passion for the natural order of which we are a tiny part. It was a slow-down, do-less mantra. But it was offered by musicians celebrating the coming together of music and culture from around the world. 

    Are you local, or are you global? I am both.  

    When I showed my son The Lost Words, he began making up new ones. Discover some of them in my blog

  • Ever wanted to be a bear?

    Silver birch trees next to a frozen lake in Finland
    Prime swinging trees in Finland

    Last month, I met a woman in Finland who teaches what she terms “evolution training”. Since I love moving outdoors – and particularly love swinging from trees – I immediately wanted to know more. She told me. 

    Her name is Pauliina Toivanen. She is not only a natural movement trainer, but also a serious snowboarder, surfer and wild food forager.

    How to start moving like an animal

    “You start from the human and go down through the animals. You start using more of your body,” Pauliina explains. Step 1: move like normal. Just walk. Step 2: move like you would if you were riding a horse. 

    That’s where being human ends. “Next, move like a bear, then a pig, rabbit, lizard and worm,” says Pauliina. “That’s what children do. They have to build their body from worming movements.” 

    Now here’s the neat part:

    “Finally, go back to walking like a human and realize that you usually don’t use many muscles.” The resulting awareness is what Pauliina terms – in true somatic language – “a good natural scan of your body”

    So, to recap…

    • Step 1: Walk like normal
    • Step 2: Move like you would if you were riding a horse
    • Step 3: Move like a bear
    • Step 4: Move like a pig
    • Step 5: Move like a rabbit
    • Step 6: Move like a lizard
    • Step 7: Move like a worm
    • Step 8: Walk like normal again

    Try it. Go on, no one’s watching…

    Want more ideas like this? Check out my post: You are how you sit

    Want more Baltic natural madness? Check this out: The Baltic cure for fear

    Want to learn more about somatic natural movement? Click here

  • Boys don’t like flowers

    The first flowers of spring

    My son says to me: “Dads and boys don’t like flowers.” We’re standing in a carpet of crocuses and snowdrops in our back garden – the first flowers of spring.

    He’d heard it from a boy at nursery. I say, “I like flowers.” He says, “I do, too.” It’s a fleeting victory. I will lose the culture war. Men and boys don’t like flowers. But it was not always so.

    Red roses for me

    Whenever powerful men of the Persian or Ottoman empires were portrayed by painters, rather than a horse or a sword as a prop, they would invariably be holding a flower to their nose – often the rose.

    Floral scents were highly prized in the region – as, indeed, they are everywhere on Earth. To smell of roses, rather than of the more unsavoury things of life, was seen as civilised and, more specifically, gentlemanly.

    To give Western culture its due, the buttonhole lingers on alongside the floral tie as nods to a gentleman’s love of flowers – but these feel rather dated cultural expressions nowadays.

    Be sure to wear flowers in your hair

    When I read Robert Byron’s majestic 1930s travel book The Road to Oxiana, I came across a passage about his arrival in the western Afghan city of Herat that struck a similar chord. 

    He observed young Afghan tribesmen from the hills swaggering into town together, rifles slung over their shoulders – the epitome of young manhood. But they were also holding flowers in their hands or tucked behind their ears.

    I love this image. It seems inexplicable to me that nature – and beauty more broadly – should be disliked by men. Is our appreciation of beauty meant to end with women? 

    Next time you’re walking the dusty road, into Herat, or wherever, to sure to smell the roses… 

  • Lost and Found Words

    The Lost Words A Spell Book by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris

    This Christmas, I read my 3-year-old son The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris — a ‘spell book’ of poems and illustrations with the neat hook of celebrating nature words that have vanished from the Oxford Junior Dictionary in recent years. 

    Unprompted, he simply started naming the birds whose names he didn’t know. Here’s the result…

    Camilo’s new words

    • Canderlop — Heron
    • Gaiun — Raven
    • Kindercorn — Buzzard
    • Cheep — Wood Pigeon
    • Arandadoe — Sparrow
    • Lockantanj — Lark

    (The kingfisher and the magpie, which he already recognises, he simply called by their known names. Making up a name would be stupid, obviously.) 

    Living language

    The Lost Words has gone as viral as a large illustrated hardback can. It has spawned campaigns to get a copy into every primary school in Scotland, Herefordshire and no doubt elsewhere by now. It has touched a nerve. 

    The book makes the point that such things as the kingfisher or the dandelion have had other names that have fallen out of use. Kingfishers have been known as halcyon, evening angler and rainbow bird; dandelions as lion’s tooth, windblow and milkwitch.

    They also make up new names: colour-giver, fire-bringer, flame-flicker and river’s quiver for the kingfisher. Bane of lawn perfectionists, fallen star of the football pitch and scatterseed for dandelion.

    I expected The Lost Words to teach my son natural words we are losing. Instead, it led to him creating brand new words for birds he had never seen before. It turns out we’ll never stop speaking. It’s what we see that shapes our language. 

  • Who’s to blame for my troubles?

    Man with his head in his hands
    Why me? (Photo by Sholto Ramsay)

    Responsibility in an indifferent universe: it’s been a cause of anguish ever since we became conscious beings. I get that. It’s virtually the reason religion exists.

    But that recurring image of the wailing mother in a war zone – the one newsreels show on repeat – is one we all feel sorrow for. Oh course we do. Why? Because she is the victim of random tragedy.

    If I shape my world…then what?

    But flip things for a second. Don’t we all grow up being told – believing – that the better person I am, the better the world will treat me? Isn’t that hardwired into us? That’s the moral baseline.

    If I act in a certain way – positively, assertively, without anger, compassionately, altruistically – that will come back to me in a more content, more fulfilled life, right?

    (I suppose one answer is that such actions simply improve your quality of life, barring random tragedy or an act of God, depending on your belief.)

    If that is our hardwired positive, what does our subconscious make of tragedy? Does it need meaning too? If it does, what answers are there in the dark recesses of the mind?

    It’s your fault

    If something bad happens, is it just the tipping point of too many bad thoughts or deeds? And even if there’s no God doing the scolding, do trivial bad or negative actions lead to a situation where more bad can happen to you?

    Obviously, these dark recesses are sometimes not so hidden. Remember Glenn Hoddle and his weird hypothesis on people with disabilities? How many of the devoutly religious harbour similar instincts?

    For those without the comfort of religion, fully confronting the reality of an indifferent, random universe is still an uneasy place to be. But it’s useful. It might even deepen our compassion.

    That’s my thought for the day. What got me started? Charles Foster’s weird and wonderful Being A Beast: An intimate and radical look at nature