I have been doing a bushcraft course, with the assessment weekend coming up fast. One aspect of the course is natural history. We have had to learn to identify trees and woodland plants, as well as animal tracks and signs.
Out and about in parks and in the countryside these past six weeks, armed with my pocket tree guide, I have bored Mrs Mabbsonsea and other companions with my constant stopping to figure out what ‘that one over there’ is. What’s frustrated me is that the pictures in the book don’t usually look much like that one over there, but I have found the process more fascinating than frustrating. I feel that the need to notice in order to learn has made me much more attentive and appreciative of the living being in front of me. I feel that the desire to assign a name to that one over there connects me to it – which was the broad and basic point of doing the course anyway.
In the bible story of Genesis 2, the man gives names to the animals. I’ve tended to see that naming as an act of taking power over them, but my recent experience makes me wonder if I was wrong. Perhaps it was an expression of humble connection in that ideal place: taking an interest in another being and noticing what is special about it. “Hmm… this little brown bird looks very similar to that one, but their beaks are a different shape and one is happy to feed in the trees, but the other only feeds on the ground.”
Richard Bauckham, writing on the praises of creation in Psalm 148, says, “Sharing something of God’s primal delight in creation enables us also to delight in God himself.” I think he is on to something. Perhaps as I learn to identify more beings with whom I share life on earth, the deeper connection that results from that deepens my understanding of my own true identity as one special being in community amongst many.
8 thoughts on “Identity”
Nice new blog Al
Revd Barry Hutchinson
Thanks, Barry. I never intend to leave it so long
Well done for learning the names of the trees…
Knowing the letters doesn’t make you literate; literacy is knowing how to read and write.
Much the same, ecological literacy is to be able to read (and write) the landscape you are in. That’s a yew (Taxus baccata). There’s a grey squirrel – it’s an invasive species, even if it looks beautiful it will destroy the beauty the landscape had before it arrived. And so on.
I like the idea of ecological literacy. I’ve just started reading a fascinating book by Tristan Gooley, called “The walker’s guide to outdoor clues and signs” which seems to be about reading the big, complex picture out there. But yes, I guess reading is one thing, but writing a landscape is a scary phrase – sounds much more serious. You could write a blog post about that …
I could, couldn’t I? 🙂 I prefer writing comments… especially as right now I am compiling a list of invasive species for Portugal… it’s 350 species long and counting.
We have been writing the landscape ever since we became human… unless we live in a hole in the ground we didn’t dig ourselves. Urbanism, agriculture, nature conservation – all are ways of writing the landscape. I think the scary bit is overwriting the landscape, e.g. the grey squirrel, climate change, urban sprawl, wildlife trafficking. One day, all of this will be in the past.
“We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. (…) We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us.” – Wendell Berry
I love your blog posts and also the thoughtful replies they inspire. Thank you for writing this latest entry. Hurrah that you have been connecting with our fellow citizens in the natural world! Would that all of us might choose to act similarly. “Sharing something of God’s primal delight in creation enables us also to delight in God himself” is a lovely idea which reminds me of the pleasure I feel when I am mucking about with a new song idea on my ukulele. I also love Julio’s Wendell Berry quotation. It reminds me of why I value organic agricultural practices. Yes, I can believe that a conventionally-grown beet offers me similar nutritional value as an organically-grown beet (as some experts have opined…), but an organically-grown beet also improves the health of the human beings who grew it and harvested it and sorted it and handled it and transported it and stocked it on the shelves of my grocery store (less exposure to potentially harmful chemicals) as well as the myriad beings — from birds to worms to bacteria in the soil to foxes to butterflies to bats to fish in adjacent waterways, etc. — who are also adversely affected by the human-made fertilizers and pesticides we use in conventional agriculture.
Yes! Why is the focus always on humans? So what if an organic beet is no more nutritious to me when the organic farming is so much better for so many other life forms. Three cheers for organic beets … and ukuleles!
Reblogged this on Open Sky Forest Church, Brighton and commented:
On 12th March, we met again in the woods at Stanmer. We thought about how identifying trees and plants, if only in seeing the differences between them, helps us connect with them and connect with God. I (Alex) mentioned the story of Adam naming the animals in Genesis, and what follows is a blog post from last summer on this subject. The comments by Julio Reis are particularly worth reading.