26 May 2009
In awe at nature
We spent this weekend en famille in the Brecon Beacons near Talgarth, celebrating a 50th birthday party. While walking around the woods, I came to a pond. It’s a quite large pond with little vegetation around it, but covered in pondweed. All the bug life was relishing the glorious sunny weather; there were damselflies and other dragonfly-types, but it was underwater that was the most exciting.
There were tadpoles galore (last year we must have visited here earlier in the year around Easter as there was frogspawn then), but what made me really smile were an adult newt and a smaller baby newt, or eft. Looking online, I think they were Palmate Newts. I don’t think I’ve seen a newt for nearly 30 years since I lived at a house called The Quarry in Stocksfield, Northumberland. This house had been purchased by my grandfather, who had hewn a series of ponds out of sandstone using brute force and a pickaxe filled from a majestic small waterfall. It was idyllic for a young boy like me and full of waterlife, including frogs, toads and newts.
Also, there were funny looking elongated beasts that I correctly guessed were the nymphs of the damselflies; these are predators but I don’t know if they would be eating the smaller tadpoles. There was also a pair of mating Great Diving Beetles, loads of Backswimmers and a few fish. The Great Diving Beetles would definitely feast on the tadpoles.
As I walked further around the boggy woodlands (a swampy meadow is called a wern in Welsh, although wern can also mean alder grove), I stopped in the dappled sunlight from the trees, leaning on my quarterstaff. Wherever we go with a wood, I end out playing Robin Hood games with my son, and I am always Little John, hence the quarterstaff, which I simply make from any long piece of straight wood that’s lying around on the ground. After the game, it simply goes back into the wood.
While listening to the song of the birds, including the call of a nearby cuckoo and the screech of birds as a barn owl flew into the woods, and the constant background hum of the insects, I was struck by how beautifully interconnected were each and every bit of the local nature. Each little niche, however poorly resourced it may seem, has an occupant busying away to extract the most energy from the nutrients available in that niche. It’s so skilfully efficient with nothing going to waste; energy is such a precious natural resource in nature with only plants capable of creating natural energy in a way that other beings are able to utilise. We could learn a lot about waste (or not wasting things) from the clever antics of all the different bugs.
And this all goes on, day in day out, with no input or interference from us, mankind. But we’re so much an important part of this vast jigsaw puzzle and we must remember our place within it. It is only when we believe that we are no longer a part of the puzzle that we start creating problems, interfering almost always for the worse.
I always have this profound feeling of the wonder of nature at spring time as the earth seems to renew itself after the long winter, as the buds come out on the trees without any help from man. We must rediscover this wonder; we must rediscover that sense of awe in newts, in the development of damselflies from nymphs through to fully grown adults.
We read books like “The Hungry Caterpillar” to children, but it is the children who understand that story not us adults; the process of growing from funny caterpillar through to ugly chrysalis and then that amazingly beautiful caterpillar is just wonderful, and that’s the point. We should just open our eyes and respect the whole wonder of our earth.