16 May 2010
Two Thoughts On Nature After A Walk In North Yorkshire
I walked along the River Ure last night. It was sunny and warm, albeit with a slightly brisk wind towards the south east. I was amazed that no-one else was out walking along the embankments - there are about 5,000 locally - but I guess that the draw of "Over The Rainbow" on the box was too interesting for nature.
What struck me was two things - firstly, the birds were so busy and noisy; and secondly, the colours.
As for the birds, there's a song thrush nesting in the chimney of our neighbour and she sings away early in the morning and in the evening, jamming away with a free flowing tune. Blackbirds could be seen scruffling around in the leaves and debris below trees and in the hedgerows. Ducks were busy on the water and several drakes were fighting while flying vertically up from the river, while house martins were flying in flocks of 5 or 6 in strict formation like Red Arrows planes (on reflection, I wonder whether they were sand martins). Peewits landed in a newly sown field and start poking their black beaks into the soil, hunting for food.
Then there were the colours of the birds, as well as the bright blue sky. Also, the colours of the plants - to a background of a wide variety of verdant greens, there were the white blossoms of cherry trees, apple trees and horse chestnut trees (I looked at the horse chestnut flowers and they had streaks of pink coursing through the petals), with the bright yellows of rape, brooms and dandelions. I stooped to pick a seed head from a dandelion and blew 10 times to set all the seeds floating into the wind to start new generations of dandelions - this was done near to where the Battle of Boroughbridge was fought many, many years ago.
It made me think of two things.
Firstly, how amazing nature is. It just gets on with life and has worked out such an intricate way of enabling genetic material to pass from generation to generation, ranging from the clever floating seed heads of dandelions to the complex fighting of the drakes, and the beautiful temptations of the horse chestnut flowers luring in the busy bees to pollinate them. Science is amazing and genes will continue to be transferred by a full range of complex mechanisms whatever we humans get up to. I am in awe of nature, constantly amazed by its secrets; it has excited me since I was a small kid and it still fascinates me, as well as making me smile.
Secondly, I thought about dinosaurs. I realised my views of dinosaurs were defined by big fossils in the Science Museum and films like Jurassic Park, Godzilla and Walking With Dinosaurs. They have made me think of big animals, slow animals, a mute colourless world, deep throated calls and slow lumbering beasts. But I reckon that's all wrong - a paradigm shifted. I reckon that the world of the dinosaurs was bright and colourful, full of high pitched chattering, buzzing insects and busy small animals scurrying around and living their lives. I know that scientists have started imagining dinosaurs with feathers and colour, but I think that's not going far enough. The problem is that the big animals are the ones that leave a trail through geological time in the form of fossils, while the small bugs that dominate our world then and now leave no trail across the aeons. There are next to no records of bacteria, viruses, moulds or other monocellular creatures and few records of insects and other bugs.
We have that problem even now, in that we see the world from a big mammalian perspective, whereas we don't rule this world - it's a world of bacteria, fungi, viruses, insects, spiders, plants and birds, as well as the bigger animals like mammals, reptiles and amphibians. I realise that deep down I must actually miss the world of microbiology that I studied at Edinburgh University, of those weird bacteria and viruses that transfer their genes horizontally and vertically. I really am just a science geek that went out into the real world, escaping the lab.
However, we would do well to remember that we are but curiosities to the rest of earth's life - largely irrelevant.
Update: I did the walk again today, but back to front and without the sun in my eyes, and they are definitely sand martins as I could see them flying in and out of their burrows in the riverbank opposite the Ings.