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
Above you,
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. . . .


Goosey said...

I think now it is up to us to pass things on to our children if it is not academic. I used to name plants and creatures on our walks when they were young and although they think they don't know much they clearly know more than they think! We used to make fun things up like a woodpigeon is a cuckoo with a sore throat and the foxes make gloves out of foxgloves!

Wild Somerset Child said...

Bovey, your post made me almost cry; it is so beautifully written, and so apposite, and had me back teaching in a primary school classroom where we did all you write of. Our children have been brought up in country ways (though round here has become rather sanitised) and our grandchildren make nature journals and 'garden; collages whenever they come to stay. I try to include 'old' knowledge in the storylines of the articles I write to encourage the passing on of knowledge. Thankyou for posting this. (Oh and the Mary Webb poem is so beautiful, too.)

Morning's Minion said...

It was my maternal grandfather [McKenzie Lewis] and my Dad who fostered my love of nature. Grampa set up a table on the porch to display the rocks, moss, birds nests and other treasures which I lugged home from the woods and pasture. One spring when he was using his team and wagon to collect sap buckets after maple sugaring season, he stopped to pick a bunch of violets for me. He carried them home in the crown of his wool cap!
My Dad traipsed us through the swamp to see where the beavers had built a dam, called us outside at night to hear the great bittern chunking away like a rusty pump in the nearby marsh. From my Mother I inherited the love of words to use in describing these things or to appreciate the words of other nature lovers.

Rowan said...

My mum and I spent a lot of time walking in the countryside even though we lived in a town and a lot of what I know and certainly my love of the country comes from her. None of my children seemed interested when they were young but as they get older it's obvious that something got through when they were young. I plan to teach all my grandchildren the things I know - not all that much really but better than nothing.

carolee said...

Oh, how right you are. I taught my children about nature using a nature table/shelf/corner whatever was at hand. And we spent much time in the "wilds" though at the time we lived in the city. So sad to think of what today's children are missing out on and the entire "dumbing down" of our educational systems by leaving out the arts and music as well. Thank you for your beautiful post and poem. Keep on doing what you do.