Lost our way?

A depressing experience the other day. We stopped off at Sedgemoor services, southbound on the M5 motorway, for a break.

This service station has often provided a refreshing break point over the years – pleasant parking interspersed with trees, albeit rather crowded at busy times. The Tesco-style facility buildings were hardly the height of architectural elegance, but didn’t grate.

Now Sedgemoor has been redeveloped, as the signs proudly announced. The new parking area offers excellent spacious parking spaces, and there the plus points end. The new car park is all tarmac with marked spaces. All trees and bushes removed. Not a living thing remains. Maintenance costs presumably reduced to zero, apart of course from the run-off when it rains – in a part of Somerset recently affected by major flooding. What a testament to our society’s ever-increasing disconnection from the natural world. Had it not occurred to the planners that connection with nature provides refreshment on a long drive just as much as loos, food and drink?

And then there are the buildings. A huge Macdonalds ad defaced the side of the old buildings, which appear to be abutted by breeze block boxes. Aesthetics and any consideration of beauty were clearly not part of the brief, which appears to have been ‘cheapest to make and maintain’. Had it not occurred to the planners that beauty provides refreshment on a long drive just as much as loos, food and drink?

Money was invented as a means to an end. The modern form of capitalism appears to have made money an end in itself. If your sole aim is to make money you will do things in the most utilitarian fashion, unless other values are involved. Costs incurred, such as those due to increased water run-off, more accidents due to less rested drivers, increasingly precarious pockets of nature,… are externalised – someone else’s problem.

We see the resulting loss of connection with nature and with beauty everywhere, exemplified by this development of Sedgemoor.

Secret Teachers

There is an increasingly frequently told tale of the vicissitudes in the development of human consciousness over historic times, of the loss and reconnection with an understanding of who we are and our place in the scheme of things, of the golden thread that runs through history, of the recovery of balance in the human psyche, of the various periods of renaissance of the highest spirit of humanity…

secret teachers coverGary Lachman is an able storyteller. In his book The Secret Teachers of the Western World he tells this tale, giving pictures of the significance of many key actors along the way – the secret teachers. To my mind this story of the polarity of movement of humanity between the extremes of darkness and renaissance is of utmost significance, particularly given the dark times that threaten.

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Bluebell time

What a glorious springtime in many woods in the UK, with the bluebells out. The above are at Anderton Country Park, Northwich. The following are in Tatton Park, Knutsford’s Dog Wood, recently cleared of invasive species to encourage just such native plants.

bluebells_dog_wood_feature

At the same time you also get the deeply pungent smells of wild garlic, with its white flowers. Somehow each sticks to its own, as you rarely see them closely intermingled.

wild_garlic_anderton

 

Green Honeycreeper

How perfectly camouflaged is this green honeycreeper, spotted briefly resting on a bush in the lush gardens of our accomodation near Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica. At a quick glance you might not even notice it.

green honeycreeper female

This is the female of the species. The male is an iridescent cyan colour, as you can see at the above Wikepedia link. These birds are part of the American family of tanagers.

I was quite pleased with the focusing on this quickly taken shot. The Panasonic Lumix DMC TZ-80 does impressive work for its size – almost as good as the huge kit of SLR body and two zoom lenses that I used to lug around.

Psychosomatic

Looking back over many years at periods when I’ve been ill or suffered pain, I can see that they were often related to times of physical or mental ‘stress’. The latter were basically of the mind and emotions. Of course mind and body are totally interlinked so this is not surprising. In fact, it seems likely that many ‘illnesses’ are actually psychosomatic, so have causes that lie deep in the psyche – mental and emotional. What proportion I do not know, but it seems likely to be a significant proportion.

divided_mindSo why do we not hear more from the medical profession about psychosomatic pain and illness? The book The Divided Mind by Dr. John E. Sarno gives convincing answers.Read More »

Green Kingfisher

It is quite rare to see a kingfisher in the UK, so it was a treat to see quite a few of these birds in Costa Rica’s Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge, referred to in an earlier post.

My first attempt at identification of the featured image came up with amazon kingfisher, but then I discovered that this is not much different to the green kingfisher, and the latter is probably what it is. The main difference between the two is simply one of size and the sort of waterways they frequent.

The bird in the picture looks more blue than green, but I guess that depends on the angle of the light.

It certainly corresponds with the description from Wikepedia: “Green kingfishers are often seen perched on a low shaded branch close to water before plunging in head first after their fish prey.”

I originally thought my second specimen was a different sort, but later decided it must just be a female green kingfisher. They were probably a pair, as it was on the same stretch of the river.

green_kingfisher_female

Alternatively, it’s also a bit like a banded kingfisher. Bird identification is not always straightforward!

Postscript: forgot to include this lucky shot of him flying.green_kingfisher_flying

Utility cables strung across the river provided a good lookout point for several of these kingfishers. Backlighting from the blue sky and significant distance prevented getting much detail shooting automatic with my travel zoom camera.green_kingfisher_cable

Northern Jacana

We saw a few of these waders in Costa Rica. The northern jacana  is reported by Wikipedia as being found mainly in central America between Mexico and Panama, sometimes also the southern US states.

The body colouring shows an interesting green/brown contrast, and the yellow beak and wattle are quite striking. The underwing flight feathers are also said to be yellow, but we did not see this.

See those huge feet, that are ideal for walking about on floating vegetation while feeding. As a result, Wikipedia reports that “in Jamaica this bird is also known as the ‘Jesus bird’, as it appears to walk on water”.

northern_jacana_portraitI prefer the portrait crop with reflections, but unfortunately the water was not quite still enough as the bird was walking about.

 

Sloth

One of our great expectations on visiting Costa Rica was to see a sloth. We were soon rewarded by being shown, after much searching, this great lump of fur high up in a tree, you could hardly make out that it was an animal at all. Subsequently we saw a number of these balls of fur, and occasionally the odd limb or face, but no decent photographs for some time. Read More »

Black necked stilt

Perhaps the most prolific area of wildlife we saw in Costa Rica was the Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge, in the north of the country near the Nicaraguan border.

One of many highlights during our boat trip on the river was this large group of black necked stilts, apparently fairly common throughout the central Americas. Fairly obviously, the name comes from those long pink stilt-like legs and the black rear of the neck.

black_necked_stilt_pair
Black Necked Stilts

According to the RSPB, stilts are rarely seen in the UK, apart from avocets, which are of the same family but have an upward curved beak.

I may be paranoid, but along the river there were just small signs of creeping low level development – the odd landing stage, clearing, dwelling, fishermen – along the banks of this magnificent wildlife haven. For how long?

Clay colored robin

Costa Rica has so many colourful birds that it was suprising to discover that the national bird is the rather drab looking clay colored robin. I mean, the bird is not unattractive, but compare it to rainbow toucans, scarlet macaws, various hummingbirds, and on and on…

Early morning in the grounds of our hotel near Arenal volcano gave a different perspective. Here we were sublimely serenaded by the song one of these robins from just outside our patio. The sound is rather akin to that of a British songthrush, which is not entirely surprising as American so-called robins are of the thrush family and much larger than European robins. Indeed, Wikipedia prefers to call it a clay colored thrush.

clay colored robinAccording to our guides, what really makes this the national bird is that its song is regarded as the harbinger of the rainy season, which is vital to successful farming in some parts.

Grey necked woodrail

One of the prettiest birds we saw in Costa Rica seemed quite common – the grey necked woodrail.

About the size of a chicken, we saw a number of them wading on the edges of watercourses. The variety of colours is quite amazing – the green-yellow beak, red eyes, grey neck, brown top of head, reddish brown (rufous) chest and lighter wings, black rear and tail, and coral red legs.

The grey necked woodrail is totally unlike the less brightly coloured water rail found in the UK, a rather secretive bird which we’ve rarely seen at RSPB reserves when they are supposedly present.

The coots and moorhens commonly seen in UK are also rails, and they are of course far from secretive.

Deadly Whites

I’m reading an outline in the excellent Watkins Mind Body Spirit magazine, of the book The Seven Deadly Whites by Karl Eliot-Gough. It’s all been known for a long time actually, but good to see it restated.

The basic premise is that the modern diet full of refined and processed foods is responsible for the modern ‘diseases of civilisation’: diabetes, heart conditions, obesity, cancer, dementia,…

Refined flour, white rice, refined sugar essentially had their nutritious ingredients removed. Too many polyunsaturated fats, too much salt and milk products are also unhealthy. Processed foods are full of them all. The body is just not receiving the nutrition it needs. Hence the diseases of civilisation.

Easy processed foods were a great innovation and provide great convenience to modern living. But beware the cost of not intimately knowing what you eat.

Of course, there are many other factors – pollution and pesticides in much of the food, the depletion of intensively farmed soils, insufficient fresh vegetables,… So this is certainly not the only game in town.

Now, if we all had a healthy and unpolluted diet, what would then be the relative cost of our NHS? Rather less, methinks.

Oh, I think the seventh white is the white lies that it’s all healthy.

Road to Monteverde

We were travelling along the unmade road to the cloud forest at Monteverde in Costa Rica, and stopped by several vehicles at the roadside. A sloth was visible high up in a tree, gawped at by those standing by the vehicles. There was also a troupe of howler monkeys, swinging rapidly from branch to branch, difficult to photograph.

When I examined the images of blurred swinging shapes back home, there was this one really good frame of a monkey looking down on the motley crew of tourists. Who was observing whom?

His look says to me, what are you doing in my world? Even the unmade road and the occasional roadside shack have invaded his wilderness, his world.

We were told that there is controversy in Monteverde over whether to tarmac the road to improve access for tourists. Sadly, the coming of the tarmac seems inevitable, of course followed by more dwellings, hotels and so on. Development seems to be a one-way street away from the wild, even in the name of the tourism that aims to protect it.

At least Costa Rica still has a relatively large amount of virgin, fertile and protected land, so nature has a better chance than in most countries.

The call of a howler monkey can reach 128Db and be heard over several miles
– one of the loudest animals on earth.

 

Vroooom!

There was I, minding my own business in one of Knutsford’s main shopping streets. Then a great roar shattered my peace. I almost literally jumped out of my skin, heart racing, adrenaline pumping… What on earth?

Then I realised that I had failed to notice the shiny red Ferrari Testerossa on the street just by me, so had no warning when a great roar came from the engine, almost as loud as a bomb blast. Of course, the driver was an arrogant looking young male. Who else?

What is it with these immature adults who can only express themselves through annoying others?

The Ferrari incident occurred some time ago. As it happens, we recently visited the local MacLaren showroom, in the interests of educating a visiting French boy, where similar cars were on display. It seems the manufacturers deliberately make the engines really noisy, as that is what the customers want. To me, it seems that the manufacturers are being entirely irresponsible, but then, at that end of the market, money talks.

In theory, there are legal limits on permissible levels of noise. According to UK government website dft“The external noise emitted by passenger cars has been controlled since 1929 when the Motor Cars (Excessive Noise) regulations were introduced. New cars are now required to meet Europe-wide noise limits. These have been progressively reduced from 82 decibels (dB (A)) in 1978 to the current limit of 74 dB (A) established in 1996.” (74dB is something like the level of music played in a typical living room, upper 70s are annoyingly loud to some people.)

The Ferrari of my example well exceeded these permissible levels. But are they actually policed? It seems not. A current private members bill aims to be “A Bill to make provision for the enforcement of noise limits for vehicles via automatic monitoring equipment; and for connected purposes.” Let’s hope the bill gets somewhere.

But just pause for thought. Would the vehicles actually sell for £200-300,000 and upward if they were whisper quiet, and could not be used to demonstrate to the rest of the population just how rich, insensitive and annoying their owners are?!

Featured image is of a particularly ‘desirable’ limited edition MacLaren tagged at £1.5million.

 

 

 

Inside someone’s game

“Some of us are trying very hard to make things better, but an attack like this reminds us once again that we are inside someone’s game.”

These were comments made by local Afghans reacting to the ‘mother of all bombs’ recently dropped by the US, as reported by Yes Magazine.

The suffering Afghans are well and truly stuck within the games played by their politicians, the Taliban, the Americans and other players. Indeed, we are all in some way ‘inside someone’s game’, usually among the rich and the powerful.

Brexit provides a good example – a game invented and fomented by those with a particular perspective on power and who should wield it, played against the European institutions that tend to act as a brake on their power, all cloaked in a populist, nationalistic and xenophobic framework.

As these games pan out, the important thing is that we actually attend to what is really happening and what is required in the situation, and do not get carried away by the mass mind encouraged by the game. If you’ve ever felt the intense crowd feeling at a football match, you will know how easy it is to be swept away by the emotions of the game.

The nightmare unfolds

Thus my Brexit Nightmare unfolds, and the EU is informed of UK intention to leave, triggering article 50.

Sensible politicians in UK and EU would by now have got together and found a path forward. But commonsense behaviour is not the order of the day, and right wing nationalistic bigotry sounds off against EU purist fanatics.

In the midst of all this Theresa May, and no doubt many European politicians, hope to find a compromise that will keep the majority happy. But she seems too beholden to the right wingers, does not appear to have built the necessary bridges in Europe, and suffers from the effects of the years of David Cameron slagging off the EU and refusing to constructively engage. All to keep the tories united and in power.

What chance the EU can agree on a solution that is not punitive for both parties, each hoping for jam tomorrow?

Thus the efforts of 40 years, of several generations of politicians, are slowly unravelled in the name of ‘taking back control’, which simply means a bit of power moved from Brussels to London. All fired by concerns of immigration, which everybody forgot to say is the price of a thriving modern economy. And at a time when the great globalisation project on which Brexit was premised is being rolled back.

Thus the UK slowly drifts into a less prosperous future, where the right wing slowly achieves it’s long term aim of undoing the welfare state and national health service. Who will suffer most – the old and the poor,  the turkeys who voted for Christmas. In fact everyone will suffer, as travel and commerce become more bureaucratic, the pound goes down even more and prices go up.

And where is the UK political opposition? Centre left leaders appear to have become irrelevant.

A nightmare indeed. Let’s hope we wake up soon.

Costa Rica

So we took a family holiday in Costa Rica, which proved to be a delightful country with mostly friendly people, particularly in the tourist industry,  its biggest industry. Well informed and passionate guides introduced us to the flora and fauna of three major national parks and to Costa Rica itself.

The national parks are prolific in vegetation, with a wide variety of birds and animals – well worth visiting. And you see and understand so much more with an experienced guide.

It was said that over 25% of the land is protected as national parks – which puts most other countries to shame. Yet there are still apparent tensions between conservation and development that are not going to go away.

The biodiversity is incredible. Costa Rica lies at the junction of two continents, resulting in an ingtermingling of species, and the history of volcanic activity ensures great fertility. This is truly precious resource for mankind that we cannot afford to lose. So tourists are actually helping in this process, so long as the tourism is managed sustainably, which appears to be the case today. Loss of tourism could actually jeopardise the whole enterprise.

In US and Europe, particularly UK, the pressure for development too often trumps that for ‘the environment ‘,  so our protected land area is much less, with little wilderness. Our biodiversity is much impoverished and under constant threat. In days of ignorance that may have been OK, now we know that our biodiversity for future generations is at stake – life as we know it, inherited from our forebears.

The effects of global warming are being felt in Costa Rica, as elsewhere, with changes in the seasons. This will put even more pressure on this biodiversity,  but who knows how nature might respond to this challenge?

There is no separate ‘environment’,  just us as an integral part of our earth and cosmos.

Featured map by Peter Fitzgerald, via Wikimedia Commmons

J’accuse

officer and spyReview of the historical novel An Officer and a Spy by Richard Harris.

There are many examples of group think and injustice in the history books. Few are quite as dramatic as the Dreyfuss Affair that gripped France in the late 19th/ early 20th century. The story is told as a historical novel in Richard Harris’s book, from the perspective of Colonel Georges Picquart, a key central character in the story of uncovering the antisemitic conspiracy and subsequent cover-up.Read More »