Why do things look like other things?

Dandlion seedhead and sparkler seeds radiating from the center - sparks radiating from the center While attempting to organise my unwieldy, burgeoning collection of photographs from the patch I kept noticing something. My brain was continually making connections – "that lichen looks like cracked mud, that flock of birds resembles smoke, there's a face on that tree". Why do things in nature often look like other, completely unrelated, things in nature? The answer to this points to a regularity, order and unity in nature...and to patterns. Grain of an Oak tree and my thumb print Patterns in nature are visible regularities of form - similar patterns appear again and again in  different contexts - in both living and non living things. Why is this? I think there are three overlapping kinds of explanation. 1) Laws of nature - nature has no choice – it has to obey the physical laws of the universe. So a bubble is the shape it is because surface tension pul

The Shropshire African Watering Hole

  On a couple of days on our recent trip to Shropshire I was unable to do much because of health limitations. This proved to be no hardship. I contented myself by sitting in the garden in front of a small patch of Pearly Everlasting. I could have been watching the comings and goings at an African waterhole! Certainly no wildebeest, crocodiles or elephants, but a similarly diverse and fascinating cast of visitors - just on a much smaller scale. No leopard came by, but instead a hornet. And then an extraordinary insect that looked as if it would be at home in a David Attenborough documentary on somewhere exotic like the Amazonia. A Gasteruption wasp carrying a javelin on its back - an egg laying structure as long as its body (picture 6) No cheetah pursued a gazelle in a twisting and turning chase of life and death. But instead an incredible variety and abundance of small, buzzing, flying things made their appearance on this tiny stage. So if your mobility is limited, or if it's not,

The Path

The path Walking along the canal towpath. Like a huge rockfall it falls away - the past shears off. Nothing ever happened. Nothing. And on the other side another landslip. The future. Nothing will happen. Nothing ever could. I suddenly arrive. I arrive here where I am. I'm a spacewalking astronaut, lifeline cut, no umbilical cord to before or after, floating in a starless, timeless void. I don't have any history, no name, I haven't done anything. Walking,, eating, drinking thinking, dreaming, sleeping - none of that. I drag no leaden ball of the past, no slights, hurts, heartbreaks. The slate wiped clean of wrongdoings, boasts, deceits, ill-thought-out misdeeds. That time, first day at secondary school when I wrote 'John Smith' on my exercise book, when all I had to do was write my name, and all the other boys laughed me back into a curled up fetus. Nope, never happened. But neither did those, smiles, laughs, kisses, loves, imagined culinary triumphs, successfully

Everything is new all the time

I’ve walked on the small corner of our planet – the one I call ‘my patch’ – maybe a thousand times. I’ve crossed this unexceptional parcel, when health allows, many times over the last few years. The same path from the cemetery on to the old abandoned golfcourse - nothing to see here. The track that becomes muddy after rain and seems want to stay muddy long after dryness has come back into fashion. But hang on... It’s never been muddy *quite* like this. I’ve had to skirt round it clinging to dry parts – but never *quite* in this way. And look at those thistles, that arrangement of flowers crossed with medieval weapons, one in front, two behind. And the way they seem to slide past the willows at the back, as I walk by – I’ve never, ever seen that – it's a totally new thing. What about that beech tree trunk with its network of byways made of darker bark as it dries out after rain. They'll soon go and only I will ever see these, and only now will I see them just like this.

This Skylark will change your life

This Skylark will change your life - no really! On my patch walk, I saw a skylark perched on a wall. I stopped to watch it for a while and took a photograph. It occurred to me that this bird has changed my life. All the subsequent moments after seeing the lark would have been slightly different had it not been there. And all those lark-rearranged causes and conditions will continue to cascade into the future. But what about the Skylark. It was only there, at that place and that time, because of a host of factors. That insect, would have influenced it – the one that laid its eggs, hatching into lark food….and that insect foodplant… And so it goes on. A ‘world wide web’ – an infinity of interconnections. Ripples on ripples. A friend on Facebook kindly posted a link to an article he thought would interest me. This reminded me of a documentary I’d seen before, which I then re-watched. My life will never be quite the same simply because of the handful of keystrokes and cli

A Collective Heaven

If heaven exists I think it will be a bluebell wood, it will always be late April, and the sun will always be just coming up. There will be a joyous dawn chorus and there'll be the sound of nearby running water. I asked people on Facebook what ingredients would be in their own personal heaven. I made this poem from the suggestions, taking them more or less 'as is'. a collective heaven curlew call, my grandmother, a bacon butty swallows in puddles by the Co-op meandering footpath, fly agaric I can walk again wood pigeon calls “coo coo boogaloo” cat purring on my lap, rooibos tea fragrance of cowslips and gorse a ripe apple fallen in the first frost sunrise through a tent doorway blackbird's evening song, new notebook laughing in surf, skylarks singing fat pigeons stuffing their faces new leaves to dance our troubles away dappled cool and fresh, woodsmoke, mist never ending summer country lane someone to take the bloody windchimes down! a ladybird’s first spring outing


Yesterday morning I wasn't able to walk very far. But I like to watch the sunrise when I can, so I drove to a layby with a bench and an excellent, high vantage point. Something I haven't done before - I decided to put music on. Sunn O))) - pronounced 'sun' - very loud on the earbuds. They are drone metal - deep, thick layers of guitar noise, not doing much except making a vast, ambient, monolithic - sonic cathedral. A bone -shaking but strangely ecstatic sound. It was around -7 degrees and the sky was Rothko. A smooth gradient - oranges through peach, ochre to a grey blue. A sky of deep, thick layers making a vast, ambient, monolithic - sky cathedral. I sat on the bench in the extreme cold, with the half moon still high in the sky, flask of tea in hand. Waiting. Waiting. The first sun's pinprick punctured the horizon. Everything revolved around this one bright point, flowed out of it, flowed into it. The sun rose like a glowing bathysphere. Rising up from the se


I stood beneath the Scots Pine, as if bathing in beams of solar flare, each shot through with swirling mist. One step to the left and it changed completely, another step forward gave me a whole new masterpiece. But not quite the same as a conventional masterpiece, say the Mona Lisa. At anyone time tens of people will be looking at it with you. And tomorrow many more. It's true each person will have a unique response. But they are apprehending, more or less, the same unchanging object before them. On the other hand I was literally the only person in the world seeing this lightshow. I was the only person who will ever see it and I will never see it again. My mood had been quite low before the shivelight extravaganza. I've seldom known such as a sudden uplift in wellbeing - a very dramatic example of 'nature cure'. In my eagerness to revel in the morning I walked further than I would have normally. I overdid it so today I'm rather our of action. But can I have compara


"The world is full of magic things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper." The word ‘magic’ can mean several things. A common way in which it’s used is to express the idea of conjuring - pulling the proverbial rabbit out of a hat. Bringing something into existence that didn’t exist before. There’ll be a range of beliefs about this. From it being merely sleight of hand, done for entertainment purposes, to it being, a literal act of creation with the use of special powers. In whichever way it's thought of, ‘magic’ usually conveys ideas of mystery and wonder. What is art? If you write a poem, paint a picture, write a song, you are literally bringing something into the world that wasn’t there before. What’s more this creation may well have ‘special powers’. The ability to strongly affect people, to move them - even change their lives. You are performing a kind of magic. Artists are magicians. But why stop at art? Aren’t we constantly bringing things into the worl

The Soul of beneath - Fungi

Common Puffball releasing spores Everywhere on the patch there is an extruding and issuing. Toadstools are emerging from nooks, crannies and crevices. Agarics are bursting from the soil. Brackets are banding tree trunks.  Crusts, smuts and mildews are coating branches and leaves. Tripe, jelly, ears and brains are erupting their bizzare shapes from rotting wood. Fashioned, as if from the very stuff of underworld , from the soul of beneath. Fungi are brilliant!'s why... Clouded funnel (Clitocybe nebularis) They are mysterious. Aristotle puzzled over the nature fungi, coming to the conclusion that they were an odd kind of plant. On the other hand,  a lot of his less scientific contemporaries believed them to be earthly manifestations of a magical realm. It's easy to see why. Their sudden appearance overnight, has something of the conjuring trick about it. Even plants move around, and rustle in the wind. Fungi just stand there - silent and still – mysterious