I guess we all have days where things just get too hectic or there are too many things to deal with. Whether it is just dealing with normal routine tasks or problems arising, my problems always seem to arrive in clusters rather than one at a time, these are the times I do my disappearing act and head to a favourite place. It is during these times I appreciate my love for nature, a time to let myself be immersed and calmed by her influence. I often reflect on my mantra that we all need to be alone sometimes and let nature take us to a better place. It is a therapy that is healing and gives perspective to my priorities. I recommend it to everyone, just go and wander in some wild place to clear your mind and find some peace in a hurried world.
A place I find myself ever returning to in autumn is a local river that flows throughout the year, the never-ending sound of flowing water jiggling and gurgling at it passes me by is calming and swallows my thoughts as I stare blankly at the rushing waters. My mind idly wanders and drinks the waterscape as the sun casts stars across the surface, Sun glitter is fascinating and consuming. Sun glitter is a bright, sparkling light formed when sunlight reflects from water, the colour and the length of the glitter depend on the altitude of the Sun, the lower the sun appears, the longer and more reddish the glitter is. When the sun is really low above the horizon, the glitter breaks because of the waves, which sometimes obstruct the sun and cast a shadow on the glitter, shadows that remind me of clouds passing over a night’s sky obstructing the glittering stars.
Animal life on my stretch of the river greets and rewards a silent and patient posture, as I lean against the trunk of an old and gnarled willow, a lone survivor of a stand that had 5 old willows standing together before flood waters destroyed their community, a bolt of the most vivid blue streaked before me as a Kingfisher hurried by on an untold mission. The Kingfisher is our most colourful river bird, a distinctive and glowing azure blue with a vivid orange breast that can shine brightly in full sun, and if you are really lucky a bird will perch closely and allow better scrutiny as it gazes with its monocular vision upon the water beneath in search of movement and food. It is often referred to as the flying jewel and I think it was Emily Dickinson who was inspired by the Kingfisher to write “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings without words and never stops at all”.
My local river flows from north to south and spills into the Mediterranean just short of Gibraltar and in autumn the river acts as a highway for birds that are making their long way to wintering grounds in Africa. The banks locally are covered with ground Elder, and they can grow to over 1 metre presenting a crown laden with a ripe cache of dark and glistening berries. The elderberries are a rich source of food for many birds and in particular the otherwise insectivore warblers that have chosen this route ever southwards, here they feast harvesting berry and insect in a frenzy of gluttony to increase their fat reserves to be used as fuel for their impending journey and build their muscle in preparation for long flights. On the river edge the bull rushes are bordered with the white flower of mint and these are wonderful plants for attracting one of the gems of the insect world and here in particular the dazzling and large Monarch Butterfly, so aptly named as it regally and effortlessly glides from one source of nectar to another.
Along the flowing river’s edge, where small eddies form in the lea of protruding plants or where the bank reaches into the waters, many forms of wader can be found probing the soft silt for morsels. Of the wading birds, one of the most frequent in autumn and throughout the winter is the attractive Green Sandpiper and these will forage not only in the river but also the small tributaries that trickle into the main watercourse as they search for freshwater shrimp and various larvae, their constant bobbing and probing makes them easy to spot unlike when they are at rest where they blend perfectly into their surroundings. They are an interesting bird, as unlike most waders that nest on the ground, they choose to use old bird nests in trees. Another common wader that occurs together with the Green Sandpiper at this time is the Common Sandpiper, many observers are confused by these close relatives and can find it hard to separate them, both have the habit of bobbing as they strut along the shoreline and skip along open ground. I have included a photograph to show both these species alongside one another, so I hope this might help readers if they see either or both these waders when next you might visit one of our rivers.
Of course, I am blessed to live in such a wonderful area that allows me to wander in so many wild places and seek the sanctuary of nature’s solace. From the rugged limestone peaks to green valleys and many woodland places I can roam until my heart is full and my mind is rested. I have lost count of the number of times I have sat aloft, perched on high ground surveying a seemingly unending landscape from the mountain realm clear to the rising mountains of distant Africa, large soaring birds flying high above me as they alone are masters of these lands. Nature can raise the spirits, heal in troubled times and is constantly changing with the seasons so anytime is a good time to wander alone, finding peace in the solitude and refreshed to deal with whatever might trouble you in uncertain times.
Article: Peter Jones
Photos: Peter Jones
Note: The views expressed in articles are those of the authors, and are not necessarily those of the Society.