Thursday, 26 February 2009
Things my mother taught me . . .
Another of Mary Webb's poems to accompany this.
The lonely cuckoo calls
With a long hollow sound among the rocks
Of sun-touched sandstone, and the echo falls
Between the straight red pines to me, and knocks
Upon my heart again and yet again.
It thrills me
With some mysterious mingled joy and pain
That slumbers in the echoing refrain
And stills me.
If only you were here,
We'd go together through the buckler-fern
And watch the nuthatch climbing to his dear;
Then - so that you might follow - I would turn,
And, smiling, mount the steep, and leaning so
Await your laughing kiss with eyes a-glow.
Ah! foolish dream - you do not even know
I love you.
I love Mary Webb's understanding of nature, the memories which cherished her when she was ill and had only her pen for company. This week I have been thinking how little some mothers have to pass on to their children, especially about nature. My mum grew up in a small country market town in Hampshire, and I was taught about the country and nature from her, and then went on to learn (and still am) about wild plants, birds and animals, to love nature in every season, to recognize trees without their leaves, wild flowers without their blooms, to appreciate the landscape as it changes when you pass from one county to another.
In turn, I took my children out for walks and taught them what I knew of wildlife: how to identify different trees, wild flowers, birds, insects, and where to find the earliest blackberries, where the wild raspberries hid, the sweetest wild strawberries grew, which plants could be used as medicinal herbs, how Soapwort was planted near a fulling mill as a washing aid, how Navelwort could cure earache, where the Blackbird had made her nest, and why the seagulls follow the plough. I am sure that mothers in the country still pass on their knowledge to their children, but so many town mothers seem to think it un-necessary to learn about the country. I think it is vital, for with the knowledge comes respect for the countryside and everything that lives in it and often the desire to learn more about the natural world.
How sad to think that natural history no longer has a place in the National Curriculum, that there is no longer a Nature Table in the corner where grubby handfuls of bluebells, or primroses would be crammed into empty jam pots, no wonderful collections of fungi in the autumn - I still remember the amazingly stinky Stinkhorn my friend Tricia and I found in Thornhill Woods - it cleared the classroom when the teacher took the lid off the box! No caterpillars in glass jars turning into butterflies or moths; no glutinous masses of frog-spawn to delight as they turned into tadpoles; no pond dipping; no leaves to identify. Nothing. So continues the transition into a world where to be stupid is to be "cool" and to be clever is to be villified and the countryside just doesn't exist for millions of children in cities. . . .