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I was hooked by nature as a young girl

The Very Rev Dr Frances Ward, Dean of St Edmundsbury ANL-161103-110230001
The Very Rev Dr Frances Ward, Dean of St Edmundsbury ANL-161103-110230001

When I was little, I climbed trees. It gives a different perspective on life, climbing trees. One of my favourite haunts as a nine year old was at the top – the very top – of the old Beauty of Bath apple tree that was in the front garden.

I would sit there for hours – surrounded by early blossom in the spring, or better, able to eat, at my leisure, the ripe fruit in early autumn.

Supported by familiar strength even when the wind blew. The branches knew their place, so I could ascend and descend with my eyes shut. I’d sit there, held by a living organism, and I’d imagine all sorts of things.

Tall ships and stars to sail by. I was mistress of all that I could see; gardens and countryside around – far-reaching perspectives that expanded my horizons and grew my soul. I needed no encouragement to be wild as a child.

It’s not left me: this time of the year, and there’s a constant urge in me to be out and about in nature, enjoying the abundance of life in hedgerow and byway, in pond and stream. George Monbiot wants us to rewild the child, and I say Alleluia!

It’s not difficult to stir a love for the natural world around. To walk, and name the trees, the flowers, the birds, to pass on a knowledge of the environment. To listen to the wind, to hear the birdsong, to receive the beauty as gift.

To learn to be still. I love David Attenborough. Who doesn’t? But I sometimes wonder if he hasn’t done us a disservice.

We have become used to the fruits of the patience of camera men and women – sitting for days for the sight of some rare and exotic creature, doing some rare and exotic activity. So used to the fruits of the patience of others, that no longer do we leave our screens and venture out ourselves, to sit quietly and in stillness to let nature re-assemble itself around us, and reveal to us its secrets.

The sight of a kingfisher, or call of a cuckoo. A molehill moving. A robin’s nest. A frog in a pond. To learn to be still, to be attentive, to become immanent and sensitive to the world. That is a gift to pass on to the young people in our lives.

I remember once two ten year old boys who were trouble in the neighbourhood. One evening, there they were, as I took the dog out, looking like they were about to be up to no good. I knew them from assemblies in school – well enough to ask them to come with me to walk the dog.

They almost didn’t, awkward and embarrassed. But the sound of a little owl, and my answering call with cupped hands, and they were hooked.

Before long, they knew hawthorn from blackthorn, elder from bramble, Spanish bluebell from English, that nettles sting. I like to think that they would have continued to grow in love of nature, better stewards of this fragile earth.

-- The Very Rev Frances Ward is Dean of St Edmundsbury


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