An Appreciation of the Natural World

“A walk is only a step away from a story, and every path tells.”
~ Robert Macfarlane

I hope you are having a good summer!  Yesterday, here in the UK, we had the hottest day of the year, and the second hottest day ever of recorded temperatures in the UK – a scorching 38.1 degrees. Heaven knows how people in Paris coped with 42 degrees!

For my part, I was helping to lug timbers for my garden cabin from the driveway to the back garden, with my son and the builders. I was feeling like a wilted flower after that…

It’s a short one from me today, as we are travelling in a few hours, but I’ll be back (hopefully rejuvenated and invigorated), after my holiday.

I make it a habit (most days), to take a short walk in and around the mini-meadow and woods near our home after I drop my daughter at school.  It gets my blood flowing, ideas streaming and just sets me up for the day. That quiet time spent in the natural world revitalises my mind, body and spirit, connects me to nature and fills me with gratitude for the beauty on my doorstep.

A recent report has cited the importance of getting at least 2 hours per week in nature to promote health and well-being. It’s important for our microbiome too, being in contact with mud, bark, leaves and all the bacteria that live outdoors that we need for inner diversity.

I’m looking forward to exploring parts of different landscapes with my family in Iceland, the USA and Canada over the next two weeks.

I’m aware I need to practice poetry, it’s not easy for me, but I still enjoy the discipline of expressing my thoughts in that medium when the mood takes me.

The Mini-meadow

Body wanders where spirit directs me,

A mini meadow beckons; green show-stopper,

Crisscrossed by perambulating bees,

Drawn to hypnotic strumming of grasshoppers,

Accompanied by pigeons, softly cooing,

As wild flowers sway in the breeze,

A small, but vibrant oasis blooming,

Butterflies flit from flowers to trees.

Here, in the long grass, energy abounds,

Nature’s summer symphony astounds…

Blackberry buds are preparing to ripen,

Berries cluster, fulsome and shiny,

Mossy stumps are covered in lichen,

Early morn, here, in this magical prairie,

A weary soul escapes to soar,

Up beyond the wood’s silent sentinels,

Their boughs whispering to reassure:

Cherish the canopied path; Earth’s angels.

Insects mate on a pure bed of petals,

Avoiding the prickly purple thistles.

Striding beneath the dappled sunlight,

Soles cushioned on withered acorns,

Roaming like Artemis: a goddesses’ delight

Fills my veins; unbridled freedom born,

Relishing the sensory arousal of wilderness,

The twitching of tails and fleeting glimpses,

Of squirrels darting – spritely grey litheness,

Birds warbling and singing, sonic spritzes.

The woods and mini meadow are my sanctuary,

Urban antidote – a place to linger and tarry.

By Virginia Burges

Walks in the Austrian countryside inspired Beethoven’s evocative and beautifully bucolic 6th symphony. We certainly had a storm like his musical one two nights ago!

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a true poet of the natural world, Robert Macfarlane, talking about the landscape and the human heart:

“There is no mystery in this association of woods and otherworlds, for as anyone who has walked the woods knows, they are places of correspondence, of call and answer. Visual affinities of colour, relief and texture abound. A fallen branch echoes the deltoid form of a streambed into which it has come to rest. Chrome yellow autumn elm leaves find their colour rhyme in the eye-ring of the blackbird. Different aspects of the forest link unexpectedly with each other, and so it is that within the stories, different times and worlds can be joined.”
~ Robert Macfarlane, The Wild Places

Could this Year be the Perfect, Blissful Summer…?

“My soul is in the sky.” ~ William Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

It’s been a struggle to find time for my blog lately, what with end of term craziness, juggling my ‘working mum’ balls and looking after ginger tabby kittens Simba and Saffron; plus another exciting project I’m keeping under wraps for the time being.

I feel like a little poetry and an inconsequential natter about the weather might hit the spot. We need something to combat the frequent depressing news headlines about Brexit…

A recent sunset

The ongoing searing temperatures in the UK have been reminiscent of the summer of 1976.  I remember it quite clearly as a slip of a girl: splashing around in the paddling pool with my brother, who to our mum’s dismay, also took an unscheduled plunge into the murky garden pond.

Wow, it’s been a long time since us Brits have really had a decent summer! We always bemoan the drizzly, wet weather that mostly visits our shores, so I have been determined not to complain about the heat. I think we are slowly getting used to it…

Or not.

A selection of recent tweets about #heatwaveuk

The extreme temperatures have been challenging at times, even my computer is whirring grumpily and refusing to operate at its normal speed. Oh well, school is out for summer as of lunchtime today, and my children are officially on manana time.

Summer is symbolic of life, love and abundance. The opening lyrics to Gershwin’s jazz aria ‘Summertime’ from his opera Porgy and Bess springs to mind.

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy… Well, at least it’s meant to be.

Mostly people are more relaxed and tend to be quite sociable; we spend more time enjoying nature and outdoor pursuits. And who doesn’t love alfresco dining on balmy evenings?

My brood have always loved the simple pleasure of picnics and barbecues with friends and family. It’s been so hot lately we’ve been able to take a few refreshing dips in the Wycombe Rye Lido.

I feel like celebrating with a light-hearted mix of music, art and poetry, and perhaps a sip or two of Pimms and lemonade, hic!

Dance at the Moulin de la Galette by Pierre Auguste Renoir

As a mum I also love that my never-ending laundry dries in a nanosecond at the moment!

But can we have too much of a good thing?

Not when it comes to music.

Rimsky Korsakov – Flight of the Bumblebee with the Russian National Orchestra and Mikhail Pletnev:

Mendelssohn – Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream for clarinet and piano with Alexey Gorokholinsky and Vassily Primakov:

In the summer of 1717 composer Georg Friedrich Händel was commissioned by King George I to write some suitably regal music to accompany his grand flotilla of royal boats as they set sail down the river Thames. The result was his Water Music Suite in F Major, HWV 348 performed by fifty musicians (a large number for the time period), on the banks of the river.

Canaletto – London, The Thames on Lord Mayor’s Day c. 1750

It must have been quite an occasion, one that’s easy to visualise when you listen to the English Baroque Soloists with Sir John Eliot Gardiner:

The Heatwave

Intense heat: blasting, humid, relentless, baking the land,

Verdant, manicured lawns – turning the colour of sand

Butterflies dance and flit among hazy meadows,

Pollen seeking bees casually meander in hedgerows.

Golden Summer, Eaglemont by Arthur Streeton. This was the first Australian Impressionist painting that was sent to Europe for display in London in 1891 and Paris in 1892.

English roses, wild and cultivated, open then wilt,

The cadence of nature’s eternal rhythm and lilt

Soft, sweet flesh of fruits, hastens to ripe,

Even walking makes damp brows to wipe.

The Basket of Apples by Paul Cézanne

Hear the birds, chirping in a chorus of mirth,

Eager to pluck juicy worms from parched earth

Heady scent of honeysuckle hangs in the air,

Long, lethargic days, perfect for a summer fair.

Wild Honeysuckle by Pierre Andre Brouillet

Skin craves the cooling caress of a soft breeze,

Throw off layers, constraints; wander like Uylsses

Seeking adventure across kingdoms, never to yield,

Abundance thrives, opening up a flower filled field.

Poppy field near Argenteuil by Claude Monet c. 1873

Torpid days fade away in vibrant, orangey balls,

Horizons bathed in luminous hues, as darkness falls

My thoughts drift like weightless dandelion seeds,

Scattered. Where they will land? Which will take heed?

Pont Boieldieu Rouen at sunset by Camille Pissarro c. 1896

Summer’s gifts are bountiful; but no rain drops!

Without swimming, drinking or bathing we flop;

Halted, by an unquenchable thirst, dehydrated pores,

Water, wine and crisp cider are liberally poured.

Frederick Carl Frieseke

The last summer I remember as this, was seventy-six,

A young girl was I, unburdened by politics – polemics

Carefree in the garden, to dream of woodland sprites,

Tales by Barrie and Shakespeare create magical nights.

By Virginia Burges

The Adagio from Vivaldi’s Concerto for solo baroque violin and strings in G Minor, ‘Summer’ (L’Estate, RV 315), performed by Cynthia Miller Freivogel and the early music ensemble, Voices of Music beautifully captures the languor of a hot, humid day:

Summer Sun 

Great is the sun, and wide he goes

Through empty heaven with repose;

And in the blue and glowing days

More thick than rain he showers his rays.

🌞

Though closer still the blinds we pull

To keep the shady parlour cool,

Yet he will find a chink or two

To slip his golden fingers through.

🌞

The dusty attic spider-clad

He, through the keyhole, maketh glad;

And through the broken edge of tiles

Into the laddered hay-loft smiles.

🌞

Meantime his golden face around

He bares to all the garden ground,

And sheds a warm and glittering look

Among the ivy’s inmost nook.

🌞

Above the hills, along the blue,

Round the bright air with footing true,

To please the child, to paint the rose,

The gardener of the World, he goes.

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Frederick Delius composed ‘Summer Night on the River’ after being inspired by the sights and sounds of the River Loing, which he would sit and ponder during long evenings from the back of his villa in the village of Grez. The impressionist tone poem recreates the gentle lapping of the waves and boats bobbing in the summer breeze:

Boating on the Seine by Pierre August Renoir

Staying on a nautical theme, Debussy’s En Bateau makes me want to be in and on the water, especially with Fritz Kreisler at the helm!

Anthony Hopkins reads The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W.B. Yeats:

The Poppy

Summer set lip to earth’s bosom bare;

And left the flushed print in a poppy there:

Like a yawn of fire from the grass it came,

And the fanning wind puffed it to flapping flame.

By Francis Thompson

Maurice Ravel’s iconic ballet Boléro, with its hypnotic drum beat and mesmerising flute melody, building up slowly and deliberately to a dramatic conclusion is perfect for sultry summer nights.

Ravel worked on Boléro over the Summer of 1927 at the behest of the Russian actress and dancer, Ida Rubinstein. Here is a wonderful ballet version choreographed by Maurice Bejart with Nicolas Le Riche and orchestre de Paris:

I can’t end without the bard’s immortal Sonnet No. 18 – Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Tom Hiddleston’s velvet voice was meant for Shakespeare:

Have a fabulous, sizzling summer!