11 You crown the year with your good gifts; places where you have passed drip with plenty; 12 the open pastures are lush and the hills wreathed in happiness; 13 the meadows are clothed with sheep and the valleys decked with grain, so that with shouts of joy they break into song.
Psalm 65: 11-13 – REB
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord.
Psalm 150: 6 – REB
This last week in England, we passed the milestone of one hundred days spent in ‘lockdown’. I suspect that everyone’s experience has been different and it’s most important not to suggest that everyone has been as lucky as we’ve been, in our stunning corner of the South Downs National Park in Hampshire. But I also feel the need to celebrate the magnificence of nature in this strangest of years, when perhaps even the smallest things can make us feel better about ourselves. I do so in the knowledge that our media is, instead, full of depressing news, where everything seems so pessimistic that I’m reminded of the line from ‘Dad’s Army’ spoken by the character Private James Frazer: ‘We’re all doomed’.
The Christians in these islands also have an additional reason for focus on the magnificence of Creation. We know surprisingly little of the detail of ‘Celtic Christianity’, which arrived in Northern England from Ireland, via western and southern Scotland, in the third and fourth centuries. But we do know that Celtic Christians considered their worship of God the Father and Jesus, to be uniquely connected to their celebration of the wonders of Creation. There was a definite shift in emphasis after the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD, which gave more influence to the Church based in Rome, which arrived late on the scene.
I shall particularly cherish the early memories of lockdown, when not only were the skies crystal clear and bright blue, but mercifully empty of aircraft. The birdsong at the start of Spring didn’t have to compete with the gentle roar of distant traffic, as it does normally. The birds and nature seemed to be alive to the fact that something unusual was happening. Specifically, we enjoyed these things:
- We were concerned about the late arrival of our swallows, who now have to face the obstacle course of massive Chinese-made ultra-fine nets in North Africa, which have wreaked devastation on our migratory birds in a few short years. But we’ve had one much cherished nest on our property, with three youngsters, who are now flying strongly and suddenly the skies above us seem to be full of swallows, swooping and chattering.
- Our rookery was so loud this spring, that it reminded me of my early childhood and it’s impossible to estimate how many chicks might have been raised. It’s now gone almost totally quiet, as it should, after the chicks have left their nests for new lives in the fields.
- It’s been a magnificent year for butterflies. This year, in addition to the normal Red Admirals, Peacocks, Cabbage Whites and Brimstones, we’ve seen several Fritillaries, Small blues, Hairstreaks and lots of Marbled Whites. They lift the spirits.
- We’ve had a lot of very welcome visitors to our newly refurbished small pond: linnets, goldfinches, thrushes, tits, yellowhammers, blackbirds, sparrows and many other species, some of which are supposed to be in decline. We’ve also had record numbers of newts, dragonflies and damsel flies.
- The fields have been alive with the wonderful sound of larks, despite the fact that badger populations, which have been linked to their decline, have also continued to grow, to what must surely now be record numbers?
- The wild grasses have also been magnificent, albeit not for hay fever sufferers.
- The Early Purple Orchids, sadly rare, seem to have done very well this year and hopefully will spread from their very scarce toeholds.
- The wild garlic was absolutely magnificent six weeks ago, so much so that we felt we could enjoy occasional leaves and flowers in our cooking – a wonderful treat.
- Our local farmer decided to plant huge numbers of hedge plants in very early spring around almost his entire farm. Not only was this a most welcome development, but the aftermath has seen huge numbers of red poppies enjoying the broken soil. At the time of writing, they’re still flowering, many weeks later, in large numbers, in a picture of wonder and delight.
- On the warmer nights, we’ve seen decent numbers of pipistrelle bats. Before the crops attained full maturity, we were seeing Roe Deer routinely – they now have too many places to hide, although this very morning we saw a female with two young only 20 yards from our garden. In early Spring, we saw above average numbers of brown hares.
- In contrast to previous years, the fields around us have been full of wheat and barley, with occasional crops of oats and linseed, rather than the normally ubiquitous oilseed rape. From the appearance of the crops, if only there’s a dry spell during harvest, it won’t just be the valleys singing, but the farmers! And the hedgerows promise record levels of blackberries, sloes, damsons and other fruit.
Most of the above has been caused by the excellent weather we’ve enjoyed, rather than lockdown itself. But I do so hope that others have been able, like us because of the lockdown, to get out more into the countryside and enjoy its grandeur and be astonished at how everything seems to change on a daily basis.
It’s not difficult to find your heart singing with joy and gratitude for the wonders of Creation, even today (4th July) with the rain falling steadily!
Gracious and generous Lord, we thank you for the glory and the wonder of Creation in all its myriad forms. Help us, even in busier times, to find space to look at the splendour of all that sings out in praise at this time of year. Amen
Note: Under the lifting of lockdown, churches are now allowed to reopen. Those who have followed this site routinely will be aware that I undertook to provide posts every Sunday whilst the churches were locked and have posted 18 times during that period. From today’s posting, I’ll revert to posting every two to three weeks, or more often if the muse inspires me. Thank you all for following me during lockdown.