A Summer Morning’s Entertainment

I haven’t blogged in a while now. Depression, which has dogged my life since my early forties, has been having a go at me in recent weeks. So much so that with the three hours every morning that I dedicate to writing, I’ve been too tired mentally to write anything beyond that. But today – life feels about right; I feel almost normal. I know only too well I might have to retract what I’m about to say, but the clouds seem to have broken. I don’t imagine for one moment that they’ve broken never to obscure the sun again – but now is now and that’s enough. I’ve done my three hours on the book today and it feels good to still have the energy to want to turn my attention now to the blog.

 I‘ve written elsewhere in this blog that I live in a flat – or apartment – that overlooks a very pretty park in South London. I get up any time between six and seven in the morning, and first thing I do – or almost the first – is look out of the kitchen window. The overnight long haul flights are turning into their final approach to Heathrow – British Airways, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Qatar, Emirates, Virgin etc., etc. And I often think back to my time in the film industry and that awful feeling after a twelve or more hour flight from somewhere in the world and you haven’t really slept (I never could) and maybe you had a glass too many of something or other the night before and you’re unwashed and unshaven and feeling pretty inhuman. And when you get down on the ground you’re going to have to stand and watch those interminable baggage carousels going round and back, and round and back while anticipating the business of getting home through a London whose morning rush hour is just winding itself up. I wouldn’t want to be doing it again. Even so, when I was doing it on a regular basis, I sort of revelled in it – I was part of the ‘in’ crowd. At least, that’s how it appeared – and it seemed important then.

However – that’s not really what I was going to say. What I was going to say was, that as I look out of the kitchen window first thing in the morning, that which has delighted me almost every day now since the 7th of May when they first appeared, is a group of up to about twenty swifts which have obviously nested close by, and whose aerobatics over the park have been wonderful to watch.

They are amazing birds. Just over six and a half inches or 16.5 centimetres, they are basically dark brown all over, but looking black against the sky – which is the only way most of us are ever going to see them. For they spend 99% of their lives on the wing, sleeping and even copulating in the air. They’re often mistaken for swallows, but in fact they’re not even of the same family. They have long, swept back wings, and their silhouette against the sky is like a sickle. They fly at enormous speeds, with periods of steady flight alternating with sudden very fast flickerings of the wings and almost instantaneous changes of direction. They’ve been encountered at altitudes of at least 10,000 feet. They are consummate acrobats. They’ll dive, sweeping from a hundred feet or more above the ground, right down sometimes to not much above head height. They can often be seen flying at colossal speed – up to seventy miles an hour – low around the housetops, in and out, skimming the chimney pots in screaming, screeching bands of a dozen or more – just for the very joy, it seems, of being alive. In their search for food for their young and for themselves, they are reputed to fly up to 500 miles in a day – that’s right, every day. Like – London to Inverness! As I watch them from my window, every few minutes, in the background will be a gargantuan Airbus 380 or Boeing Dreamliner coming in – and however technically impressive those mechanical flying machines are, they are still, by comparison with the swift, little more than befuddled, lumbering dinosaurs.

 The swifts come to northern Europe from Southern Africa every year. Whereas most summer migrants to our shores stay here about six months, swifts are away a lot earlier, usually in August, having arrived only in late April or May. Although there are reckoned to be around 85,000 pairs nesting in the UK, sadly and like so many birds on the British list, they appear to be declining.

They’ve entertained me – and hopefully a lot of others in their extraordinary airborne treks – since early May, and I guess they’ll be on their way back in the next few weeks to southern Africa. How do they do that? How does any migrant bird do it? No-one really knows – either how they know the route or how they survive the journey. And how, when they come back the following year, so very many of them return to exactly the same street or farm building – even nest – where they spent the previous summer. No-one knows. And I’m glad they don’t.

I dread the scientific know-all who pops up on TV and with a smile of triumph on his or her face, breezily announces that another ‘mystery of nature’ has been solved. If we’re not careful, before long we’ll have ‘solved’ life itself. And if we think we’re in trouble now – which we are – it’s nothing to what that’ll be like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About besonian

Writer, photographer, film director
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8 Responses to A Summer Morning’s Entertainment

  1. Sue Vincent says:

    Swifts are amazing little birds, aren’t they? I had a flock nest in my eaves in Vichy for a few summers and they were a real joy.

    I agree with you, Jeff, on the down-side of scientific ‘knowledge’… especially when half the time the conviction of its delivery only serves to mask the fact that they are delivering no mor than a description, not even and explanation…let alone any real understanding. I love how far we have come in making such knowledge available to everyone, but, like you, hope we never run out of mysteries. Life would be a poor thing without wonder.

    • besonian says:

      Thank you, Sue. I think that science – conventional science – cannot by its nature, relate to what lies beyond the intellect. And it’s what lies beyond the intellect that lies at the core of our existence. We, as human beings, experience often in our everyday lives things beyond the intellect but because there never can be an ‘explanation’ of it, we call it ‘magic’ or ‘wonder’. What we actually experience, for example, in those swifts, in a sunset, in the touch of the hand of a loved one, in the birth of a child is not explicable; it’s beyond science, beyond words, beyond any form of ‘explanation’ and indeed beyond knowledge, ‘knowledge’ being essentially of the mind. And it’s that untouchable, inexplicable-ness that is the root of all that we are.

      • Sue Vincent says:

        Yes, there is a wordless understanding of such things… words are neither needed nor apt for such moments. The mind is only part of the vehicle of experience… and not the most important part.

      • besonian says:

        Hi Sue – I think, along with you, that the mind is not the most important vehicle of experience. But I’d go further than that – the mind is often the most negative and restricting of vehicles. The trouble is we come to identify with the mind and all its memories, its opinions, worries and anxieties and the things it delights in and wants to hang onto. And we get to think of that as who we are. I don’t believe it is. To me, the mind is an ever-growing accumulation of ideas primarily – from which our memories, opinions and all those other things derive. But it’s not who we are, and if we believe it is, we live in confusion. We speak of ‘my’ mind – who or what is the entity to which the mind belongs? It brings to mind – sorry about that! – the words of the Tao Te Ching – ‘Stop thinking (i.e. stop letting the mind run free) and end your problems.’ Or Krishnamurti’s definition of meditation – the emptying of the mind. And once it’s empty, what remains? The real magic.

      • Sue Vincent says:

        I’m with you here, Jeff, too. If mind is the randomly accessible memory bank of the machine, then who is the operator? It is all too easy to identify the Self with the surface of thought because it is present in every moment. Even so, we can observe the mind at work… and that observer does not come from the mind or intellect. The trouble is that in the west at least, we have no vocabulary with which to explore such concepts… even while accepting that to explore them in such a fashion reduces the infinite back to the perspective of individual personality.
        There is a magic beyond the mind’s grasping hand… when harmony is touched and the fragments of being work as one. Then, “As time remains free of all that it frames, May your mind stay clear of all it names.”

  2. besonian says:

    Thank you, Sue. I know exactly what you mean. But I think the reason the West has no words with which to deal with such concepts as ‘the observer’ is that ‘the observer’ as we’ve spoken of it, is not a concept. Concepts are thoughts and thoughts come from the mind. But we’re talking about something beyond the mind, beyond thought. That’s problematic in the West, but not in India or China for example. The ‘observer’ beyond thought, if one has the eyes to see, is a permanent fact of everybody’s daily existence. It is not individual. It is common to everyone and to life itself. It can’t be thought about. You have just to be still and allow it to reveal itself.”

  3. Sorry to hear that depression reared its ugly head, Jeff though good to hear you’re back blogging again.
    I’ve just read your recent post and I enjoyed it very much. I’ve never been a bird follower (my late father was) though your post got me thinking of the early morning bird sounds I hear when I’m back in the UK , which are usually in the form of screeching seagulls as I live on the South-east coast. However, when I’m back in Japan, I hear the most peculiar bird sounds imaginable though shamefully, I’ve never been bothered to find out. Your post has inspired me to do a bit of research!

    Also, on the subject of airports, I too very much dislike the long haul flights and like you, totally unable to sleep both on the plane and at airports. However, surprisingly I seem to get creative moments while in transit and they always seem to happen at Dubai airport??!! You’ll get what I mean from the link:
    https://murrayjasonpaul.wordpress.com/category/the-guardian-publications/

    And finally, I’d like to say thank you so much for assisting me with my MA Research Paper last year. I finished the course last week. Your comments were invaluable which helped back and add strength to my argument. Again, thank you so much.
    All The Best
    Jason

    • besonian says:

      Hello Jason! Good to hear from you again. And thank you for your kind words re your research paper. It was my pleasure. This is just a quickie as I’m up to my eyes at the moment, but I’ll get back to you in more detail within a day or two. Take care.

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