I was watching a program about Anne Frank and the Holocaust a while ago and it was really interesting (particularly about how people coped on a mental level and survived by thinking in certain ways) but I had to miss a bit to go to the toilet and as I came back into the room I heard someone saying how people/someone in a concentration camp said they became “envious of birds”… presumably as they were free and flew about at will, although this was not said. This struck a chord with me as I have noticed my interest and relationship with birds has changed over the last few years, since my illness has been more severe. I would not say I was “envious” of them, but certainly they have become more significant.
Since becoming ill with CFS/ME my relationship with nature and landscape has changed: I feel more like a tourist. I can watch programmes about the natural world on the TV, I can see the landscape, trees and sometimes wildlife from the car window or occasionally from the train, but I cannot get out there and be in-nature as much as I would have done if i was healthy. There have been times during my illness where i have been able to go for occasional decent walks and it remains one of the things that gives me real joy and a sense of wellbeing. Over the last few years it has become more and more difficult for me to walk any distance, and even standing still has been hard, due to POTS.
As someone who grew up in a very rural area (North Wales) I felt immersed in the natural world on a daily basis and part of the landscape, like a belonging. I realise I am unlikely to experience that sense of “home” again, but being ill has not changed what I enjoy, where I find beauty and in a way, meaning. Feeling connected to nature is as close to a religious experience as I can get.
I have found, however, that it is hard to experience this connection to nature and immersion in it when you have a chronic illness. Often I am not well enough to get dressed and leave the house at all. I cannot walk far when I do, sometimes only for a couple of minutes and slowly. I need regular rests on benches (if there are any). Some places are wheelchair accessible, but it is usually boneshakingly bumpy and frustrating to stick to the path. I can be driven to look at a nice view, but I can only look at it and not feel part of it. I can rarely be alone there. In short, rural areas are largely inaccessible.
But birds come to you. Wherever I am I can be surprised by a bird and it’s presence can make my day more interesting and give a sense of spontaneity; that something unexpected and unpredictable happened. It is a pleasant distraction, which takes me out of myself.
There are jackdaws on the chimneys of my house (I can see them from a side window if I look up!), I sometimes see a wren in the front garden as well as blackbirds and sparrows who regularly take baths in the dish I put out for them. There are a pair of doves that often sit on the telegraph wires outside an upstairs window. There are seagulls which fly overhead and crows that are often flying around the trees on the far horizon at the front of the house. Sometimes there are starlings flying in swarms in the late afternoon in winter. There is a conifer tree behind the house a few doors down where they roost and it is the noisiest tree I have ever encountered, it is full of them chattering away and seems to rock with their presence, but you can’t see even one.
A few months ago I read a great book: Crow Country by Mark Cocker – it is a non-fiction book about the authors relationship/fascination with crows. It is, essentially, about bird spotting! It is not the sort of book I would usually pick up but the reviews I read of it praised his poetic writing style and the more I read about it the more I thought it sounded good. I actually bought it for my Mum, as something a bit different, and i think she enjoyed it for the most part, but not as much as I did. Yes, there are quite long and detailed descriptions of different corvids and corvid behaviours which are a specialist interest (and I may have skimmed a little), but among that were beautiful descriptions of early morning/evening walks, encountering unexpected wildlife, and the author talking about his life and passion for it. It brought back memories of experiences I have had and which are some of most treasured memories – such as when a barn owl swooped down on me and I held my breath as I felt it brush past my shoulder from behind and heard it’s feathers as it flew away in front of me; when I went for an early morning walk before school and watched hares boxing in a field. I have had some great experiences more recently, such as hearing the ringing that pieces of ice make when you push/throw them over the frozen surface of a lake,
(a picture I took that day)
and also a dawn walk on the beach at Alnmouth when we went away for my birthday a couple of years ago and as dawn broke thousands of birds left the water’s edge and flew away towards the land creating a noisy ceiling above us, created by them calling and also their wings flapping; it was too dark to see much which made it all the more striking as it was just an intense sound and a kind of rushing overhead.
Thinking about these things and also being aware that I wanted to use my limited energies on something creative, as I was getting very bogged down in medical appointments and benefits applications (still am! see my other blog for all about my life with ME) and finding it was taking all my energies (which I was coming to greatly resent), the idea of doing something creative about birds came about.
I have put off posting this and telling people about it as I was unsure if I would ever get around to it, but I have been working on ideas and although I am just starting it (and it may continue for years at this rate) I feel it is a solid project in my mind at least and that it is time to share! I am aware my creative blog is not very exciting yet so this talking about it at least makes it look like something is happening!
In the spirit of research I did go to a local art gallery in January, as part of my birthday “outing” to see Tracey Emin’s exhibition of Seagulls. I discussed it here. Her seagulls had words printed on them and I am very interested in word and image combinations in art and with the bird theme I felt it may speak to me or give me ideas. I was a little disappointed…
So, on with my own ideas… I have a Moleskine fold out book which I have not know what to do with, or dared to touch (ruin) up until now. I am planning on filling it with my bird-related art… watch this space!