As you know, I love visiting far-flung corners of the UK, and there is nothing I like better than immersing myself in an ancient forest and getting lost – not necessarily geographical lost (though that happens occasionally), but lost in thought and awe, lost in imagination and the labyrinthine depths of the mind, and yes, lost in wonder, love, and praise.
And, yet we all seem to move too fast, and it seems the pace is quickening.
Travelling as I do, usually by car, I enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Therein lies a challenge. When I’m driving, and I promise I don’t ‘dawdle’, but being unfamiliar with the twists and turns of country roads I might drive a little slower. And I assure you it is only a little slower than the regulars who use that stretch of road. But, then I’m in ‘tourist mode’ and I like to imbibe the countryside, the changing colours of the leaves, and see herds of sheep all facing the same direction (and, why do that do that?), or just gaze and the undulating scenery (whilst being attentive to traffic conditions, of course). All this means that I might just travel a tad slower than the regulars who seem intake on tailgating me.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
Yes, we all (or many people, at least) seem to move too fast, and it seems the pace is quickening.
It was a cold, dark, grey, cloudy evening, with the wind howling around the chimney stack and making a ghoul-like noise. In north Wales the winds can be particularly strong and even more so in the valleys, as the mountain sides seem to act like a conduit funnelling strong winds into ‘smaller space’s and making for even stronger winds. But, I’m inside the Cottage, Ty Gwin, and now safe, comfortable and warm, and aged about seven years – and so this happened some time ago.
Earlier that afternoon my grandmother, wrapping herself up in many layers, gave me a wink which meant so me to do similar and join her on a ramble. I liked the mystery of not knowing of where we would be going, and so asking the purpose of the ramble just didn’t occur to me. And had I asked, I think, knowing my grandmother well, the answer would have been alluringly vague or cryptic.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
My grandmother was, then, very mobile, but getting on in years, and that on particular afternoon we seemed to walk and talk for about twenty minutes and then stop, and in silence just sit on a log. That happened several times over the course of the afternoon’s ramble, and then we circled back to the cottage early evening, where I could hear the wind picking up and making those ghoulish noises outside.
‘So, what did you notice on our jaunt this afternoon, little one?, she asked – always with a friendly, somewhat mystical, assuring, twinkle in her eye.
‘Well, when we stopped the first time, I noticed the horses in the nearby farmer’s field, and I heard some tractor noises in the distance, and I saw a bird fly out from a hedge, so it might have been a wren’, I replied.
‘Very good, and more…?, she said.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
‘Well, the second time we stopped, I noticed more mud on my boots so the ground was a bit marshy, and there was a bad smell of fox pooh, so there must have been foxes around somewhere’, I replied.
And without waiting, and being somewhat eager to please, I went on and added, ‘And the third time we stopped, although I couldn’t see it I heard the sound of a Great tit’.
‘How do you know that’, she asked.
‘Ah’, I promptly replied,’ I remember you telling me that that bird sounded as though it was saying ‘Teacher, teacher’.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
She smiled, winked, and said, ‘Well done. Exactly right. And what did you notice when we were walking?’.
‘I thought about it for a few minutes, and I said, ‘Not that much. I was trying to keep up with you, not stumble, not get mud in my boots and on my socks, and had to duck several times under branches’.
She smiled an even broader smile, let out a small laugh and said, ‘That’s fine, little one. It’s usually when we stop racing around that we’re more observant, anyway’.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
That was many years ago, but more recently I heard this (anonymous) story: It is said that a man ventured into the most remote part of Africa, and was only accompanied by paid porters. They each carried a machete as they made their way through the thick undergrowth. Their aim was to keep going at any cost. If a river appeared and several did, they would cross them in the shortest time possible. If there was a hill and there were many, they quickened their pace so as not to waste a minute. But suddenly, and without warning, the porters stopped. The explorer was nonplussed, and very surprised. They had only been walking for a few hours. So he asked them: ‘Why have you stopped? Are you already tired after just a few hours walking?’ Then one of the porters looked at him and explained: ‘No sir, we’re not tired. It’s just that we have been moving so quickly that we have left our soul behind. Now, we have to wait for it to catch up with us again.’
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
We do all seem to move too fast, and it seems the pace is quickening, don’t you think? If you can, my encouragement to you this week, is to ‘gouge out’ some regular time when you can slow down, or even stop and rest even for a short time. I know it’s not easy, but working around work, and busy schedules and other commitments my encouragement to you (and me) it to take (more) time to stop and stare, and to really appreciate our local (rural or city) environment, and truly appreciate the life around us and within, and the opportunities we have to be in awe of nature and the Source of All.
(All indented phrases above are from the poem ‘Leisure’ by the Welsh poet W H Davies. The ‘Guardian of the Forest’ sculpture, in the header photograph, is one of about ten sculptures situated in Thetford Forest UK from October 2019 for the next few months).