30 April 2021

100 Years of Solitude

Well, it seems like 100 years.....

It seems about a century ago that I first read Gabriel García Márquez's novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.... 

However I actually read it on a steamer from Patras to Ancona on the 11th and 12th of April 1980, (which, I suppose, is almost as good as a hundred years ago.....)

It is a book that has had a profound effect on me, though, in true magical realist style, I would not realise that for almost forty years.

If we don’t ever sleep again, so much the better,” José Arcadio Buendía said in good humor. “That way we can get more out of life.” But the Indian woman explained that the most fearsome part of the sickness of insomnia was not the impossibility of sleeping, for the body did not feel any fatigue at all, but its inexorable evolution toward a more critical manifestation: a loss of memory. She meant that when the sick person became used to his state of vigil, the recollection of his childhood began to be erased from his memory, then the name and notion of things, and finally the identity of people and even the awareness of his own being, until he sank into a kind of idiocy that had no past.

In Chapter 3 of the book, an eleven year old girl called Rebeca arrives at the Buendía household in Macondo.  Her entire baggage consisted of a small trunk, a little rocking chair with small hand-painted flowers, and a canvas sack which kept making a clock-cloc-cloc sound, where she carried her parents' bones.

They kept her, because there was nothing else they could do.

However, she carries disease with her and in due course the family lose the ability to sleep and, They had indeed contracted the illness of insomnia.....  But what followed was worse.

One day he (Aureliano) was looking for the small anvil he used for laminating metals and he could not remember its name. His father told him: 'Stake.' Aureliano wrote the name on a piece of paper that he pasted to the base of a small anvil: stake.  In that way he was sure of not forgetting it in the future.  It did not occur to him that this was the first manifestation of a loss of memory.....

So they begin to label things with their names so that they won't be forgotten. They attempt to pin down reality with language, but it is a forlorn battle. 

They mark everything with its name: table, chair, wall, bed....

Aureliano went to the corral and marked the animals and plants: cow, goat, pig, hen.....

Little by little ...he realised that the day might come when things would be recognised by their inscriptions but that no one would remember their use..  Then he was more explicit. The sign that he hung on the neck of the cow was an exemplary proof of the way in which the inhabitants of Macondo were prepared to fight against the loss of memory: This is the cow.  She must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be boiled in order to be mixed with coffee to make coffee and milk. Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters.....

In January this year we moved house.  Amanda had been registering the number of years we had lived in our old house:

And had no recognition of our impending move to Norfolk.  Since the move, it has been difficult for her to reconcile events with her perceptions, and she has been confused and disturbed.

In attempting to make sense of the excess baggage that we have brought with us, it has come to light that Amanda had been preparing for her future in a variety of ways.  Not only do we have reams of aides memoire such as this:

And lists of friends with details of their families.  And lists of our family, with notes about her parents and our children.  But also pages such as this one, which record where she liked to go:

And notes about music:

And practical notes, such as this:

And, possibly the most touching of all the evidence that she could tell that her mind was deteriorating are the boxes of cards she has made and addressed to all the people close to her, from her daughters to her old school friends.  All neatly packaged in plastic sleeves within boxes, as in this picture - look away now if you are of a sentimental disposition:

Yes.  Amanda has written cards to friends and family for Christmas, and for birthdays, up to and including 2028.....

In One Hundred Years of Solitude, the episode of memory loss is only an episode.  Eventually, a man appears at the Buendía home.  He was a decrepit man.  Although his voice was broken by uncertainty and his hands seemed to doubt the existence of things, it was evident that he came from the world where men could still sleep and remember..... 

He gave José Arcadio Buendía a drink of a gentle colour and the light went on in his memory.  His eyes became moist from weeping even before he noticed himself in an absurd living room where objects were labelled and before he was ashamed of the solemn nonsense written on the walls, and even before he recognised the newcomer with a dazzling glow of joy.  It was Melquiades.....

Regrettably, I don't have a friend called Melquiades.

And there is no magic drink of a gentle colour to restore the light in Amanda's memories.....

Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.

Vaya con dios.....

20 April 2021

Making new friends

 If only.....

Two jackdaws stare at me from their perch in a beautiful stand of spring-tipped silver birches.  They are suspicious of me, but I mean no harm.

A jay looks, slightly myopically, in my direction, not sure if I will pass by....

A red kite surveys me from the safety of his thermal, then zooms away, uninterested.

Geese - Canadas:



And Egyptian:

Fly past in formations, oblivious to, or just unconcerned about, my insignificance. 

I walk, with my wife, quietly - with little conversation - every morning.  I carry a camera all the time.  One time I may see a Barn Owl dropping in on some busy rodent:

Another time I may glimpse an angle-poised heron cruising above the fish he will invite to dinner:

I use the camera to record the lives I witness, and also to help identify my fellow creatures.  Sometimes it is hard to distinguish one little bird from another, and only when I magnify the pixels can I be sure of who I have pictured.

Here, for example, are a few tiny souls whose paths I recently crossed:

Meadow Pipit
Linnet (f)
Chiff Chaff
Chaffinch (f)
Stonechat (m)

But they have all kept their distance. I cannot reach out and touch them. Our friendship, if you can call it thus, is distanced. What does it take to make a friend? What is it that makes us all so detached? I mean them no harm. I have no axe, nor grinder. We breathe the same air, eat, if you like, pretty much the same organic produce, and certainly need to drink the same water. 

I am not bathed in an aura of loving everything and every body - for example, I have no desire to spend my time in the company of woodpigeons with their monotonous phone-dial croonings or their huge appetite for my broccoli. And if push came to something like a shove I could probably live without mallards.....  But, for God's sake, why is it so difficult to be friends with your neighbour?

Here are a few more snaps taken recently, from a distance, of beautiful things who really don't want to associate with me, or others like me.....

Yes, the world is full of life, for the moment..... And though we don't all speak the same language, we do all breathe the same air. 

I just wish we could be friends..... 

Especially as life is so short.  We must make the most of every ray of sunshine,

For tomorrow is another day, and some friends have already gone.....

17 April 2021

A Night on Wild Ken Hill

Lessons in rewilding

We have only been in Norfolk for a few weeks, but it's growing on me....  No offence, but it's like ivy is creeping up my legs, and mistletoe may have taken root in my armpits....  Although we are in a substantial village, our new home is only a 45 minute walk to the beach on the eastern shore of The Wash.  And the walk takes us through the forest of Wild Ken Hill, a romantic name if ever there was none....

The Wild Ken Hill estate is, to quote its website (https://wildkenhill.co.uk): 
returning land to nature and farming sustainably in coastal west Norfolk. We use rewilding, regenerative farming, and traditional conservation practices side-by-side in a unique, innovative approach.....

I hope they won't mind me quoting like this from their website, but the statements are clear, and there is no point in me trying to paraphrase them.  They say that: 
At Wild Ken Hill, our motivation is to deliver benefits for those around us. From providing free visits for our local schools to helping the UK Government meet its biodiversity and climate change goals, Wild Ken Hill seeks to show land management can work for everyone.

And they express the following details of their approach:

Regenerative Farming

We’re experts at regenerative farming, growing healthy food while fostering amazing farmland biodiversity and storing carbon in our soils


We’re letting nature take over on 25% of our site, with ponies, cattle, pigs and beavers managing the rich landscape for us

Traditional Conservation

We actively manage freshwater marshes, river valleys and woodlands, spending time and effort to create great habitat for rare species

My daughter and I sign up for a guided tour, specifically entitled Nature by Night.  This is just one of a number of scheduled tours, led by members of the team, now possible since our partial release from lockdown. 

Despite the title, we start in daylight. We are led by Lloyd, Conservation Leader and Ecologist.  Although Lloyd has only been in post since October, his knowledge of the site is impressive, as is his clear grasp of ecology and knowledge of the natural world.  Rather nicely, too, the group is only six, including him, so it is easy to hear explanations and to engage in conversation with him, and with others in the group.

Lloyd has with him a thermal imaging camera, a bat detector, and, though we don't need them yet, a set of torches.

As we start the tour, we are told of the changes the team have been making in agricultural techniques, much of which is explained in their Land Use Model publication which was published last year.  Among the points I learned on the tour were that that are using cover crops, and variable depth seed drilling; they have introduced various grazing animals (Tamworth pigs,  Red Poll cattle and Exmoor ponies) all of which have, like the native deer and other wildlife, free range across the site; there is also an enclosed area where four beavers are working on controlling the natural flow of floodwater; the team have stopped cultivating unproductive areas, and leave extensive margins around the fields that they are still actively cultivating.  They are not using insecticides and are aiming to be free of fertilisers in a year or two.

The statistics are impressive: Wild Ken Hill is a four thousand acre family owned estate and it stretches from the sea through coastal scrub, freshwater marshes, heathland, wood pasture to nature-rich farmland.  So far, 2,500 species have been recorded on the estate.

The first creatures we see are brown Hares, of which there are too many to count, but then overhead a Sparrow-hawk flap, flap, glides into the dusk.  

We see two pigs sauntering along the edge of a field.

The Red Poll cattle are lurking in the gathering gloom. 

The sun begins to slip through the hedge, while a Grey Heron slides across the clouds like some stealth bomber.

In the shallows before the flood defence a myriad of Curlew religiously stand toward the north.  

Around a scarecrow tree I see three Marsh Harriers unsure as to who should have the high perch.

Back toward the forest two young female fallow deer ignore the hares that career pass them.

The moon, a sliver of its sometime self, poses with Venus, and the darkness falls.  

We stumble into a field, discovering what Lloyd deems the highlight of the night, a Woodcock roding, circling above our heads in a display flight that seems to take five or ten minutes - so must be something like a mile in circumference.  It is now too dark to catch a photo, but its quiet, rapid wingbeats brush the air like the insistent beat of a fan.  

Then it is dark.  Our last stop is a powerful moth trap.  On the way, Lloyd picks up a pipistrelle on his monitor, but we don't see its radar.  We hear a Tawny Owl parodying itself, but don't see its shadow.  Woodpigeons clatter off their roosts as we plunder through the brush, but the rest, as they say, is silence.....

The moth trap has a number of hapless Hebrew Characters and other moths, huddled in egg boxes, and Lloyd effortlessly identifies each.  

By now I am flagging.  It is a wonderful world, but my batteries are low and we need to curl up in a nest somewhere.  

It has been a stimulating walk into the night, and I very much look forward to my next encounter with the estate, which is due to be in search of the dawn chorus in a week or so's time.  

We were lucky, I guess, to have good weather and a spectacular sunset, but all in all it's not the weather that makes this a special place.  It is down to the management and the cultivation of a natural environment.  There is a paradox in that, but let's not get too exercised by it. 

It is an exciting enterprise, and I thoroughly applaud it.  Thank you for having me....