A couple of articles


 busy working on a blog post, but since starting it a month ago, I'm struggling to make it readable! So, in the meantime I thought I'd share these two articles that have been shared with me. They both say important things about people's mental health in the western world.

This article from a US mental health website called The Mighty looks at self-care, and what this actually entails. And it ain't about candle-lit baths and a glass of wine! Her sub-headings are: take care of your body; quit; ask for help; take care of your relationships; and take care of your basic needs. She writes in a gritty, colloquial style, but I think that's part of the power of the article, in some ways. It feels raw.

The second article, from The Huffington Post, is about modern life and the need or obsession with being busy. I like his perspective shift towards the end, where he changes his feelings of being a victim of his busy life, to taking responsibility for it, and describing his life as 'full', as opposed to 'busy'. It feels like he is saying "I am choosing to have this full and busy life", rather than "My life is this awful busy slog, over which I have no control". This feels akin to taking ownership of his life, and there is an increase in his awareness as he realises has choices about how 'full' he wants his life to be. I should add that he rightly distinguishes between people who have busy lives due to economic pressure, or childcare, and those who are choosing to be busy as a way of escaping contact with themselves.

I'll post my next overly-laboured post soon!


New life


he rush of spring has been quite something this year. It started late, especially since we had 5" of snow on the 28th and 29th April! But since then, the grass has shot up; the bracken has reached my waist and continues to grow; and I can't see much through the trees in the woodland now as all the trees are in leaf. This makes the perfect shelter for the roe deer that live in the woods. In winter and early spring I frequently see them coming out of the woods to feed in the fields and moorland as resources in the woods below become scarce. But from spring until late autumn there is no need to venture out of the protection of the woods as all their food needs are met. So, I have to go down to the woods to watch them, and this is one of my favourite ways of being in nature. I have to become very aware of my body, being careful to tread lightly and avoid twigs; I watch my breathing; take note of the direction of the wind on my skin so that I'm downwind of the deer and their very keen sense of smell; and I must keep myself hidden as much as possible. This is easy to write down here, but in practice it is much harder, and there have been many times when I have seen a deer, but only as bounds away from me! What I am aiming to do is to watch the deer without it being able to see, hear or smell me. This is easiest to do when the wind is high, and coming towards me, as this covers the sounds of my steps, and my scent. Unlike humans, a roe deer's eyesight is not its strongest sense, and so by being slightly camouflaged with a green jacket, and remaining completely still, a deer will have a hard time spotting you, even from 20 yards away.

Spring is also the time when roe deer have their kids. Normally this takes place from April until June. Locally, they seem to give birth in late May. So, three weeks ago I went out looking for kids in the woods, but apart from seeing two does, I had no joy. However, my neighbour told me that he'd seen two deer kids and a doe together locally, so that told me that they were there somewhere! I went out again and was rewarded this time by the sight of a doe and her kid, unaware of me at first. She was feeding off a birch tree, whilst her youngster went off exploring. The kid was probably the size of a large cat with long legs, and beautiful white spots on its golden brown fur. It was lovely to see, although after a while she was aware that something was watching her as she kept looking forwards where I was stood. The wind kept changing direction, and so I think she was getting wisps of my scent. As I walked away, she definitely heard and probably saw me, and ran off barking. This is a fascinating strategy, and is obviously highly successful. When the mother expects danger, she runs off barking so as to attract the attention of the predator so that it will give chase to her. Meanwhile the kid drops to the floor, flattens itself to the ground, and remains motionless until the mother returns. Presumably this strategy stops the predator from taking notice of the kid, chases the mother, and it relies on the mother being able to out-run any predator.

One of the two photos!

One of the two photos!

I saw this same pair a week later in close proximity to where I had seen them the week before, and it led me to the idea of using my father-in-law's trail camera (a motion sensitive camera that can take photos day and night) so I could get a photo of the kid. I set it up in the woods and left it. Thinking it was a sure thing, I went to look at it after six days. On connecting the camera to the computer, to my dismay, I had captured no photos of the kid, and only two photos of a doe! I'll have to try again in a different place.

For me, watching deer is my own mindfulness exercise: I am not thinking about what I am doing tomorrow, nor what I did wrong yesterday. I am completely in the present moment, both internally and externally. I become fully aware of my body, treading very carefully, listening out for movement, and watching the path ahead of me both for noisy leaf litter, and for the deer themselves. And, importantly, I am in contact with a wild animal, whether that be looking at deer tracks in the mud, seeing a deer couch, or suddenly coming face-to-face with a buck, and him running away, barking at me to tell me he knows that I am there, and the game's up. I think that this sort of movement and contact opens up ancient ways of being. It takes us away from modern life where we have become too domesticated, living in our cognitions and surrounded by our own creations (e.g. cars, houses, offices, streets, television, etc). It keeps us in touch with our whole bodies and also the non-human world. Contact like the above can bring our wilder side out. What do you do to get in touch with your wild self?

One of my favourite photos of a roe doe using the trail camera taken at the end of winter, 2015

One of my favourite photos of a roe doe using the trail camera taken at the end of winter, 2015

Death and equality


hat do Game of Thrones, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and lambing have in common?

Lambing this year was much harder than last year. Of the eight lambs that were born, six now survive two weeks later. Death has been present throughout this period, in varying forms, and it has made me aware that death is never far. On waking on a Wednesday morning, we walked down the field in the fog to see a new black lamb walking about, but our joy quickly dissipated as we realised that one lamb of twins was nowhere to be seen. We quickly realised that he (Stone) had been taken by a fox in the night. His mum (Mabel) had a newly developed limp and another ewe with twins had blood on her head. There had obviously been a fight.

This same day, our last two ewes lambed in the afternoon. Lois had twins, but only tended to the larger and first born lamb. The younger twin (Hope) had been partially cleaned by mum, but lay still and unmoving while Lois tended to her other lamb. After a couple of hours, we brought her in, warmed her up and tube fed her through the night. By morning she was bright, alert and walking. When we put her back with her mum, Lois actively pushed her younger lamb away (probably due to her smelling of us now). We took her inside again, and she deteriorated throughout the afternoon. By 11:20pm she had succumbed to E. coli bacteria with a temperature of 106 degrees F, and died. As the vet put it, her first meal was E. coli rather than milk, and so she was doomed from the start.

Kurt Vonnegut's book Slaughterhouse-Five, about the firebombing of Dresden in the Second World War, is filled with the theme of death, and with each mention of death he finishes with the refrain “So it goes”. According to Wikipedia, he use this refrain 106 times: a lot of death for a small book. His style of prose affects a powerless or laissez-faire attitude. He seems to say: 'This is death, and it is all around me, and there is nothing I can do but accept it”.

Having just finished the fifth series of the Game of Thrones TV series, death abounds. The programme is well known for killing off any character, no matter their apparent centrality to the plot. Death seems to have no regard for whether the dying person is worthy of death or not: kind, brave, evil, murderous. All are equal in the eyes of death it seems. I am left feeling attached to a character, only for them to be killed in the next episode.

To answer the starting question then, I have come to see that there is no 'fairness' in death. All are equal in the eyes of death. We are not kept alive on this earth due to the good or bad deeds which we do. As with our two lambs, only living for about twenty-eight hours each, to me their deaths felt unfair, but they still died. So with the deaths Vonnegut writes about, and the deaths in Game of Thrones: things die, and it is part of life. Or put another way, death is siply neutral, it is we humans who impose good or bad, right or wrong on death. So it goes.