Everyday magic

Gleaming lances of shivelight 

Gleaming lances of shivelight pierce the canopy - dawn’s first rays threading their way through the outstretched arms of a lone ash tree. Just before starlight meets the ground it illuminates a patch of morning mist. Solar spotlights pick out an ever changing fragment of the new day with a shimmering band - shot through with essence of firefly.

This is a scene I’ve witnessed on many occasions during my morning visits to my patch. It’s an entirely accessible slice of every day magic.

So can we find - awe in the ordinary - wonder in the workaday?

My answer would be a resounding yes! If you don't see it look closer, or from another angle...or with a different mindset. You can look at something with a jaded ‘seen it all before attitude’ or you can choose to shift your gaze and look anew, donning kaleidoscope-tinted spectacles – the ones that infuse everything with wonder.

I think my experience of patch watching has been such an exercise in finding the 'everyday sublime'. It's a fairly ordinary plot of Lancashire countryside outside my front door. 

distant roe deer stands, at the place where sun burnished dawn greets icy night

I could have jetted off half way round the world - I could visited
Machu Picchu, the Grand Canyon, seen the Northern Lights. These are unimpeachable marvels that I'm sure would have taken my breath away. But those airline tickets have remained resolutely unbooked and I’ve settled for the small-scale wonders that are homegrown and the close at hand.

How could this everyday small stuff compare with the majesty of the greatest sights this planet has to offer. Well I think, for a lot of people, it wouldn't and indeed the notion might seem laughable - an exercise in delusion even. What I would contend though is that very act of seeking out the beauty just beyond the back door - is what makes equally enriching. I would go further – it’s more enriching.

You get back from this ‘trip of a lifetime’ with a repository of memories and a bulging  stock of photographs and stories -  enough to bore an array of undergarments right your your friends. But there's also a sense of deflation and anti-climax as the drudgery of normal life returns and presents its dreaded shadow.

On the other hand when you develop a keen eye for everyday magic you have a gift that lasts for ever.

If you can see an autumn leaf that has temporarily adhered to an overhang – diverting a trickle of water so that its stalk issues a morse code of silver droplets …If you can stand transfixed by this tiny atom of wonder – then you do can do it for everything up to and including the Victoria Falls!

Not taking things for granted.
Imagine for a moment that we lived on a planet where the sky was a featureless, uninterrupted blue nearly all the time – clouds as rare as total eclipses. Now imagine that one morning you wake up to find huge white masses had spread across the sky – each one several miles across and a mile high – just floating there.

You would look aghast at these ‘clouds’ – marvelling at every billowing fractal. It would be impossible to believe that you could ever take this extraordinarly sight for granted. But that’s exactly what we do.

This simple exercise of not taking things for granted can be performed on almost anything at almost any time  – trees, a bird, the sun – and on a deeper level - being alive.

Lichens - a fascinating, beautiful micro world that can be observed anywhere.

Looking closer
This is only half the story though. Before getting to a stage where you can take a  thing for granted you have to be aware of the thing in the first place.

I think it would be fair to say that the majority of people do not see lichens. They may be vaguely aware that rocks sometimes have coloured patches or that trees are covered in ‘mossy stuff’ – but for most of time people are almost literally blind to lichens.

I was as well – when my natural history pursuits extended only as far birds I simply didn’t see them. As my nature interests widened so I started to take a keen interest in them. It’s a cliché, but my eyes were opened to a whole new world. Those ‘coloured patches’ became hundreds of different  species  - some thousands of years old and a fascinating, beautiful micro world that can be observed anywhere.

The expression “opened one’s eyes” is a good one. I think most people who have a passionate interest in something, or a unique perspective, can point to someone or something that helped them peel away the layers that had been obscuring the everyday magic right in front of their noses.

Being childlike
All this comes naturally to a child of course - they are hardwired for wonder. Taking things for granted doesn’t come into it, they don’t need to imagine they haven’t seen a cloud before!  Everything is new, everything is a source of wonder – their insatiable curiosity means that every day is filled with delight and amazement.

A child sees a frozen puddle for the first time. What a fantastic thing!

“What would happen if I trod on it…I’ll find out, I’ll tread on it…wow that feels nice…I’ll do it again…it’s like I’m biting into a choc ice …only with my foot!”

Why wouldn’t a child do this…but on the other hand why would an adult do this?

I tried this during the last spell of icy weather. Making sure no one was watching my errant childish diversion – I attempted to get back into the mind of the ice-vandal that was my five year old self.

It worked – up to a point. I felt something of pleasure in the sensations, the sounds the sights of this simple act.

Icy Puddles

Everyday Alchemy
There was a day last February which was the most dreary, grey, cold, wet uninspiring day imaginable. Almost the last thing on my mind was going out for a walk – then it occurred to me – this day is so, almost comically, miserable that I’m going to turn it round.

I saw it as an exercise – no matter how seemingly slim the pickings – I‘m going to find the magic – I’m going to write a poem.

…I think it was a success – every chilly blast, every damp footstep, every bramble prick became grist to my magical mill.

I’d make no great claims at all for the quality of the poem (or the video I also made) – that’s not the point. The value was in the alchemy. The very act of seeking and finding the wonder turning the base metal of the mundane into the marvellous gold of everyday magic,

paddling through the stream, delighting in the patterns - on a hot afternoon, not a care in the world, totally in the moment - a flashback to what it was like to be a child

Why wouldn’t a child do this…but on the other hand why would an adult do this?
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  1. I have been fortunate to visit many places around the world and really enjoy delving into the nature of a place if only briefly. However, it is good to come back and reflect on the ordinary on my patch. A sense I am left with however is that we have had just so much habitat loss in Ireland, and I suspect the UK also.

    1. ...and 'what we have lost' is subject to George Monbiot's 'shifting baseline'. We could compare the present to supposed 'golden age' several decades ago - but this may well have been impoverished compared to a century earlier.

      Equally we may look back in a few decades to the present as a 'golden age' ...which is in itself salutary

  2. "when you develop a keen eye for everyday magic you have a gift that lasts for ever. " Yes, this. When you bless your reality, you get to feel blessed by your reality. I was thinking of adventuring and leaving my home patch, and it seemed quite an attractive idea, but there is something rich in the sense of belonging when you know a land and it knows you back. You and it change each other subtly. Thank you for your words and images, my life is richer for them.

  3. I could not agree more..."developing a keen eye for everyday magic - a gift that lasts forever" and enhances every day.

    1. Thanks Britta - I can tell that 'a keen for everyday magic' it's something you have!

  4. Wonderful post, thanks for the reminder!

  5. Lovely, Phil... we live in Central France... within spitting distance of the Brenne.... but our six acre patch is more than adequate for wonderful sights every day of the week. I visited Kenya as a teenager many moons back... but, whilst it was amazing for a short while, I don't think I could live there.... and, with all that I have discovered since, there is nothing that drags me back.... my "home patch" suffices... with patterns such as you see, wonderful insects and birds, beautiful flowers.
    Yes, I could, probably, find all these in Kenya.... but with all that we have in walking distance.....
    Gytha Citroën

    1. Thanks a lot Gytha - yes there's no place like home!

  6. Alchemy indeed, the perfect word for it Phil. Thank you


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