Riding the rollercoaster

bees (9)

The day did not start well, either for me or the little fish I had to remove from the tank. It was no surprise that it was dead this morning… it had been looking a little off-colour the night before, though nothing too serious, until one of the larger fish took advantage of its incapacitated state and started using it like a water basketball, swimming around with it in its mouth, chased by its friends. I had put a stop to that ‘game’ and would have removed the ailing minnow to a makeshift hospital tank, had it not hidden itself in the roots of a plant.

I couldn’t blame the fish… they were just following their instincts. Even though such a ‘game’ looked cruel from my perspective, small fish can easily be frightened to death and Nature’s often brutal euthanasia may have been a better option than a long, drawn-out illness. I will never know.

bees (11)

The day got a lot better at my son’s though, when he sent me out into the garden. Trooper, one of the two ‘miracle-fish’ currently residing in my son’s pond, is still with us. He and another golden orfe had both fallen ill with dreadful ulcers some time ago…we had no hope of their survival when we saw them floating, belly-up, side by side. One of the fish, though, made a dramatic recovery and is back to swimming happily with his shoal. Trooper has not been so lucky, but each time we think he must be at his last gasp, he rallies and proves he can still swim with the best of them, albeit a little lopsided… so the daily checking on Trooper is always a bit of a rollercoaster, as we worry not only about his recovery, but about whether he can escape any local predators… like the heron and the cats.

The heron flies over most days, but the cats…the ones who moved in en masse to my son’s home over the winter… seem to have disappeared. The food in the automatic feeder still disappears daily too, but I haven’t seen any of them in weeks now. Their fickleness is a little sad, but then…that’s why I prefer dogs.

bees (10)

On a nicer note, mother magpie brought her babies into the garden today. We had worried about them too when the crows had mobbed the nest at the top of the tree. We’ve been worrying about the birds for a while, as the neighbours chose to cut down an awful lot of the trees that they called home, and for a while, the garden fell silent. The little birds were soon back, though, and it was good to watch the young magpies establishing their familial pecking order over the bird bath, while the wren sang on the fence and the tits and finches raided the bird table.

Apart from checking on Trooper, though, my mission had been to photograph the bees on the globe thistle…and that was a definite delight, apart from the sadness of the bee caught in the spider’s web. It was still and lifeless, too late for any help… there was nothing I could have done… and after the fish, I would have hesitated to interfere with the natural process.

Life is constantly being recycled, from the decay of fallen fruit and leaves that feeds the earth, to the recycling we, with our emotional view on life and death, find distressing or distasteful. There is a great dance of energy in motion, flowing through first one lifeform then another as each completes its allotted span and purpose, returning the components of its life to the greater life of earth.

bees (5)

Even so, it was sad to see the little lifeless creature, paralysed and caught in the web below the flower that is drawing more bees than any other at the moment. I love their soft, furry bodies of the bumblebees, covered in pollen that seems to refract a rainbow of colour and I spent a pleasant half hour watching them.

The next plunge of the rollercoaster came after I had brought my son over for him to use my bathroom… his being out of commission for the next month or so. Much to the dog’s delight, he is coming over every day for a shower and she is loving the extra captive ball-thrower. Sadly, though, as Nick is a bit unsteadier than usual today, he had a fall as we were going back out through the front door this afternoon. He was fine… he fell on me… and rather than doing the decent thing and checking to see if we were both okay, the dog did her best Houdini impression, bounded over our tangled legs and ran.

bees (3)

I live in a quiet cul de sac… but the roads through the village are dangerous, the cars drive fast…and there are cows, horses and sheep to contend with if Ani takes to the fields. I was convinced she would go that way, as that is where we walk, so headed off in pursuit on foot, while Nick manned the doorstep in case she wandered home. There was no sign of her. I scoured the fields, checked the farm, fishing lake and stables, ran down to the allotments, all the way through the village to the shop across the main road… I walked miles without a sight of her and, as rush hour approached, grew more and more afraid.

It was only as I passed the village veterinary practice that I thought to check with them, to see if they had heard of a stray dog. The receptionist smiled… Ani is microchipped and while I searched, they had emailed me to let me know she had just been brought in. Fear gave way to relief as they brought her out to me… wagging her tail furiously and obviously expecting me to be proud of her adventures… We had words about that on the way home. But she still got chicken for dinner.

bees (1)

I ended the day on a good note too, with a copy of a Derbyshire village magazine in my inbox and a hard copy in the post. They had seen my article of their little church… the one that smiled…and asked if they could reproduce it. I was glad to agree, pleased that the editors approved of how I had described their church.

But the day really had been an emotional rollercoaster, and in between the various domestic dramas,  and just for good measure, Nick had asked about the time he spent in the coma. So I revisited and relived some of the emotions I had experienced while he was unconscious and, we were told, about to die. We talked about the various levels of consciousness, from blind reaction to the dispassionate observer within, that watches without judgement or attachment as you move through the moment, good, bad or just the space between.

bees (8)

Nick quoted the Buddha’s reference to the Self as witness to inner truth, while we discussed whether or not your reactions are really ‘you’… or whether they are a consequence of who you really are…and it had been a day of reactions for both of us. It occurred to me that we are very like the bees I had been watching… scurrying through life, collecting grains of experience like pollen that cling to us, like it or not, from every moment of our lives. These grains of experience are the raw materials of reaction, forming the basis of how we both protect and propel ourselves through our days. Some of what we collect is bitter, some sweet as honey… but all of it adds to our store of knowledge. We can wall ourselves in behind what we learn, allow ourselves to be ruled and perhaps paralysed by fear…or we can let it open us to life and lead us, eventually, towards wisdom.

bees (6)


bees 024

“I feel a blog post coming on,” said my son, grinning as he watched me snapping away at the bees. The words have become something of a joke, as practically everything may now engender a blog post. We were having a break. There were dozens of bees on the loosestrife beside the pond, all different kinds, busily harvesting the nectar of summer. It had been a busy morning for us too. After all the normal jobs and his breakfast had been done, I’d put his shopping away and cleaned the barbecue ready for the Thursday ‘lad’s night’. At least I wouldn’t be cooking for them for once.

“Possibly,” I replied, pausing to point the camera skywards at a low-flying kite. What I would be doing was cleaning the pond and fountain pumps and sorting the UV filter… housed in the most inaccessible position for vertically challenged people. Still, we were working together, his height and strength, my dexterity, and talking as we worked so the day passed pleasantly, even though I was obliged to go back to the dreaded supermarket for a few things he had forgotten…and call at the homeware place to get him a houseplant for the table we had just built.

bees 029

I’m getting good at this flat-pack malarkey. I remember the very first flat-pack furniture I had tried to build, way back in the 70s. The board from which it was made was soft and bowed with the slightest pressure. Holes were pre-drilled, but hit and miss. Dowels had not come into use and no-one had electric screwdrivers.

As a very young wife, we had just moved in to a house with a huge living room. I had considered the long wall… a wall I could, potentially, fill with books. The new, flat-packed furniture seemed a good option. It wasn’t exactly cheap back then…but it was sleek and modern and it matched. Up until that point, our home had been furnished with a misassorted collection of whatever we could manage. I could build them, surely. The adverts showed beautifully coiffed women putting them together with ease and a simple screwdriver. How difficult could it be?

Youth is so optimistic…

bees 027

Who on earth had invented this stuff? Okay, the Romans, probably, with their collapsible travelling gear as they marched across the globe. You can blame the Romans for most things… and if they could cope with the perennial problems of flat-packing their army, they probably deserved  to conquer the world.

I wrestled with boards far taller than I, attempted to make sense of the translated instructions with little success. Scrabbled through the mysterious piles of screws, washers and strange plastic things that were supposed to hold the lot together…Regretted buying the models that came with drawers and doors and hinges…ironed on the edging strips… and finally, in frustration, resorted to the hammer.

Since then, there has been an array of bookcases and cheap furnishings that have come and gone…or simply given up the ghost and collapsed over the years. Construction has, on the whole, improved with the screws all being present and the holes aligned more often than not and I can now assemble a six-foot bookcase in a little under twenty minutes. The console table we had assembled should, in my experience, have been no more than five minutes and six screws. No… they had to do it in the most complicated fashion with three-foot long metal dowels and locking contraptions. Even so, with a variety of implements from the kitchen drawers being put to unorthodox uses, we…eventually…prevailed. It looked good. It needed a plant on top…

bees 020

So off I trundled to the supermarket, wondering on the way about the flat-pack society we have created. I understand the economics, both for producers of the stuff and at point of sale. I am cognisant of the logistics of shipping and can see all the benefits of flat-pack both to suppliers, stockists and consumers. For those on a limited budget, the stuff is a godsend…my bookcases cost peanuts. But the difference between living with prefabricated DIY furniture and something made in real wood is huge. So, at point of purchase, is the cost, yet over a lifetime, the real wood will last, acquiring a patina and character, where the flat-packed stuff will not.

We don’t want to wait for things any more. We have become used to being able to get something that will do the job and have ‘the look’ now. Flat-pack furniture gave us the option to do just that. For a long time it was cheap… these days, as soon as you get beyond the basic and functional, it is often just as expensive, if not more so, than its solidly built wooden counterparts. Except that even a lot of that is self-assembly. So ironically, our demand means that we pay more, deliver to ourselves, build it ourselves and dispose of the packaging …creating more work for ourselves than strictly neecessary whilst eliminating the jobs of others. Meanwhile crafts are under threat, skills are disappearing and the antiques of the future won’t be coming from the average home as no-one will dare to move them lest they fall apart.

bees 002

As a society we seem to have come to expect instant gratification and have lost sight of the values we once held, where patience was a virtue and the things we wanted were worth working and waiting for.  I thought about the bees and the kite I had been watching. The bee is an ancient symbol of tireless industry and diligence and as such was always associated with both kingship and the priesthood, which is quite telling. The hawks are symbols of focus and attention…and the clear vision of the soul. There is no instant gratification in the spiritual journey; everything must be worked towards and the results awaited patiently as they filter through into our daily lives. Not because there is a need to quest and strive for enlightenment or spiritual awareness… but because we perceive it as such as we dismantle the bars we have built around our being. We call it the Work, yet we ourselves are the work.

As I sat in the traffic, heading back to pond-cleaning duty, I wonder how much it truly costs to live in a flat-pack society. What are we losing, how much are we missing in our haste to have everything now? I would spend the afternoon getting covered in cobwebs, sludge and algae, being attacked by brambles. It would be a long and messy job that would need focus, attention and diligence. The results would be worth it though, seeing the water flowing fast and clear, watching the fish play in the fresh and oxygen-rich pool. More importantly, I would enjoy the afternoon because I was working with my son and laughing through the horrid, dirty jobs…sharing time working together.  Sometimes, no matter how messy the job, it is worth the effort.

bees 021