The Value of Maps!

On a recent warm and sunny day (an infrequent occurrence this summer), I set off with my companion Hugh, for a walk in a local beauty spot. On arrival, Hugh was dismayed to discover that we had arrived minus the map of the area he was planning to bring. Hugh may be dismissive of Sat-Navs, but put a map in his hand and he’s very happy! In fact, it’s the equivalent of reading recipe books for me, an inherent pleasure just in the browsing. Not only does he like to plan where he’s going on an outing, he also likes to recap the terrain on return.

I’m more of a “let’s just explore and see what happens” type of walker, so was feeling much more up-beat about the venture. Sure enough, before too far, it transpired that there were various routes that could be followed, with the occasional arrow pointing out the right direction for reassurance. We had a very enjoyable and scenic walk before stopping at an on-site cafe for some refreshments. On deciding to then return to the car, Hugh had some misgivings about our actual location, again lamenting the loss of the map. However, I was sure that the road we could see in the distance was the same one we had driven along before parking, and that the car would be fairly close at hand. It soon transpired that not only were we not near the car, we were in fact on the opposite side of the parkland area to previously thought! Continue reading “The Value of Maps!”

Minding Mortality

A sad reminder of the unexpected in life, came with the death of one of the adolescent greenfinches, who has been visiting the garden since a fledgling. There was a sudden commotion amongst the birds (perhaps a predator spotted), which may have alarmed the youngster. He flew straight at one of the house windows and died as a result of the collision.

The fragility of life: one moment contentedly feeding with his family, the next his short life has ended. There was a sense of shock as well as sadness. Certainly I have felt regret over the finch’s death, and have now taken steps to minimise the risk of any further bird strikes.

A verse from the Old Testament came to mind, “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades…” (1)  In the context here of eternal things, (whatever our views of life after death), there is no doubt that human life by contrast is finite. We are uniquely conscious of our mortality in the sense of knowledge: one day life will end; and uncertainty: we do not know what length of time is allotted to us. In order to reduce this existential anxiety, we find ways to minimise that awareness, often only reflecting on death when something threatens our well-being, or someone close to us dies; a family member, friend or pet. Continue reading “Minding Mortality”

Gift of Life

Someone I know well is approaching their 95th birthday. Perhaps not so uncommon in these days of longevity. However, Bill suffered a significant heart attack when he was only in his sixties. The hospital doctors told him to prepare for only having another 18 months to live. Bill, on recovery duly gave up work and invested in a funeral plan! Since then he has continued to live on, in defiance of medical expectations, enjoying his books, music and pottering in the garden.

I’ve wondered about asking whether, if he had known that he would have that extra lease of life, would he have done anything differently, made other choices perhaps? It risks sounding too close to “Do you think you could have done more with your life”, so have desisted. Anyway, I could imagine him saying he is perfectly content, life is what it is.

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A Shared Life

I’ve just finished reading “Beyond Words: what animals think and feel”, by Carl Safina. A profound and moving account of in-depth studies into animal behaviour. The passion of men and women who have dedicated large swathes of their lives to observe and record the patterns of elephants, wolves, sea-birds and killer whales, is brought to life here. Though the real stars on show here are of course the animals themselves.

We are reminded that words are only one form of communication, and are given insights into the array of vocal sounds, gestures and posturing, as well as use of smell in the animal world. I was familiar with the idea of whales calling to one another, but didn’t know for example, that elephants are sensitive to low frequency sounds, travelling on waves across the ground as well as the air, to be received through their feet! Apparently they can hear and recognise members of their group from miles apart.

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Seeing and Being Seen

Last night I watched the film “Lilting”, written and directed by Cambodian born British director Hong Khaou, starring Ben Wishaw, and Cheng Pei Pei, among others. At the heart of the film is an exploration of grief and loss and a desire for human connection. It is built around a Cambodian Chinese woman (Junn), living in sheltered accommodation in England, who has lost her son prematurely. The audience is aware that the son was gay, and that he struggled unsuccessfully to share this with her before his death. The partner seeks to help reduce Junn’s isolation and build a relationship with her. It is a beautiful yet melancholy piece of art. Like picture gazing in a gallery, where gradually the scene reveals levels of complexity, movement, and threads of meaning.

I lay awake for a long time after watching it, feeling profoundly sad. Without giving too much away, or trying to compete with the excellent reviews available, the theme that touched me the most was that of communication. On a surface level, the obvious issue of trying to cross language and cultural divides are addressed through the use of an interpreter. Even then, with the best of good will, misunderstandings occur, resulting in tension and upset.

Continue reading “Seeing and Being Seen”