Thursday, 30 November 2006

September 2006 - Clouded Yellows and Swallows

Do you find God in your garden? I certainly do. I think I feel closer to God in my garden than I do anywhere else – except perhaps in the Burren, or similar great sweeps of wild landscape. Intellectually I can give my assent to the proposition that ‘He is everywhere’. But yet that sense of awe and wonder at the majesty and loving kindness of God seems more intense amidst living, growing things. Am I confessing some kind of failure of imagination?

Now, in early September, I am busying myself with the chore of strimming the wild-flower meadow, and raking up the cuttings: the plan is to allow the seeds to fall and multiply the flowers for next year. While leaning on the rake I catch sight of a yellow butterfly visiting a clump of Birds-foot Trefoil, a Clouded Yellow: not exactly rare, but a little uncommon, it is a migrant from warmer Mediterranean shores. A perfect specimen, newly emerged, it would have started life as an egg laid in June on a trefoil leaf by a female swept on southerly winds from France or Spain. Unfortunately, our winters are too cold and wet for them, and its offspring will not live to reproduce. But next year, a cousin of this beautiful maiden-aunt will visit to enchant us again.

Meanwhile, overhead, a twittering flight of swallows weave and bank, fattening themselves on flies and midges. One chases another, squealing piteously: perhaps a child of 2006 still seeking to be fed by its parent? They will leave soon, but their return next April will herald the burgeoning of another summer and lift our spirits. Gilbert White, the Rector of Selborne in Hampshire and eminent 18th century naturalist, believed that they hibernated in the mud of ponds. The truth is even more amazing: these tiny creatures fly 6000 miles, traversing the Sahara desert and the jungles of central Africa, to winter in southern Africa. And ringing studies have shown that the same birds find their way back to the very same nest the next year!

What little miracles of life these wanderers are! They are our distant cousins in the web of life, and they too are wrapped in God’s loving kindness. Matthew reports Jesus saying: “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them”. How will they cope with climate change, I wonder? In our greed and thoughtlessness we human kind pollute and damage this amazing world we have been given. Experts warn us that we are causing a rise in global temperatures unknown for 55 million years, and an accelerating crisis of species extinction, with uncertain but probably nasty consequences for us and our children. We badly need a big, big miracle: we should pray for it, and try to walk a little more lightly on God’s earth!

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