We suspect it would be fair to say, Dear Reader, that Contemplation is a way of being that is largely ignored by the young, and of increasing solace to those of us who are irretrievably ensconced in middle or old age.
As you are aware, in the last couple of years we have become increasingly enamoured of standing or sitting around doing very little. And of spending that rescued time thinking.
Not with a deliberately blank mind, as in meditation, but with a mind that is focused on the moment – mindfulness is the de rigeur pop-psychiatry phrase that is currently in vogue – and really looking at the world and thinking about it.
This has led us to think harder about Death. And Fear. And how we deal with both.
We have even been moved to write a poem about the “Sweetness” of Death.
And one of the posts we are actually more pleased with than most, a chewy 2500 words, no less, is about how important it is to really look around oneself from time to time on Calendars, and life, and gardens, and days and marriages and butteflies and more. If you haven’t read it yet, please take the time to do so.
Life is simply so busy – so filled with stuff – that we lose the ability to be still and really think. To truly see the world around us, in all it’s intricate complexity and to learn the lessons we are offered by it.
Robert the Bruce was a famous Scottish King who laboured long and hard to free his country from English rule. Although this brave man had been driven out of Scotland, he was not ready to give up. Several times he tried to win back his kingdom, and several times he failed. An interesting story is told of how he gained the courage to persevere so patiently.
He was lying in a poor thatch-roofed cottage one day, wondering whether he had not better cease all efforts. Suddenly his eye rested upon a spider which was weaving its web. It climbed away up to the roof, but before it could fasten its thread there, it lost its hold and fell to the ground. A moment later, he saw the spider climb up and try again. Nine times the insect fell; but at the tenth attempt the thread was fastened and the web woven.
Bruce, who had watched the nine failures, gladly saw the patient spider succeed, and declared that the little creature had taught him a good lesson, and that he too would persist, in spite of repeated disappointments, until he should triumph at last. So instead of giving up Bruce tried again, and soon found that his luck had turned. From a moment of Contemplation came the campaign that drove Edward 1st out of Scotland.
I was reminded of this story today by a single bee, working industriously to harvest pollen from the coastal daisies that grow along one end of our swimming pool. Unkempt clumps of them have now taken over the retaining wall in front of our home and the path around the pool, but despite protestations from Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink (a much more active gardener than we are, it must be said) we have resisted trimming them back.
Firstly, because Erigeron glaucus is one of our all time favourite edging plants, because this little daisy plant is incredibly drought hardy, will spread readily and is very easy on the eye. Secondly, it also attracts bees.
Even late in the summer, when all fruit trees have had their pollen used up, and even this ubiquitous little clump of daisies has already been visited umpteen times, still the bees return, pausing only momentarily on a flower head that has already been harvested, but hopping uncomplainingly to the next, and the next, until they find one still bearing its life-giving essence.
Their patience is inspirational.
As we flicked the pages of the Sunday newspaper’s insert magazine up to our chest in deliciously cool water, we kept one eye on the hard-working insect. It was unhurried, thorough, and uncomplaining.
As you will know, Dear Reader, if you can dredge the matter up from the dark recesses of your mind, we have previously written about the bees in our area, and how they have tangentially reminded us of what’s important, in Drowning Bees and Men.
Well, today they reminded us that patience and persistence, married to industry, is the great common denominator for success, and we all surely need to contemplate that from time to time.
The other natural intersection today was some time spent cooing to a Spotted Dove (Spilopelia chinensis) that alighted on our pool fence and, after looking around anxiously for a minute or so to check the coast was clear, settled down to bask contentedly in the late afternoon sun.
Yes, we are aware that most people do not seek to talk to birds in their native tongue, which is why we keep our strange little habit to ourselves, but hiding alone behind a high fence seemed a safe spot to indulge.
For some years now, we have had pair of Spotted Doves that return to our home every spring to nest and produce their young, and early summer mornings we are always greeted by their unmistakeable coooo, coooo, crooo call, which depending on whether one is slumbering gently already half awake, or deeply asleep and rudely woken by it outside the bedroom window, will generally determine one’s reaction.
Their nest is seldom more than a few sticks thrown together, and for many years they nested at the top of a brick pylon inadequately supporting our car-port roof. That pylon has now been repaired, however, robbing them of their birdy AirBNB, so they have decamped to the nearby ornamental cherry.
The pairs are monogamous, although the bird also congregates in groups when feed is plentiful. This year, we had the unusual situation of two males vying for the attention of one female, with both walking along branches and other elevated surfaces cooo, cooo, crooooing for all they were worth and bobbing their heads up and down, in order to display the white spots at their neck. Mating follows immediately after such displays, so one Mr Dove made it, and one didn’t.
Looking at the Dove on the pool fence, we wondered whether she was the female taking a short break, or one of the two males enduring a lonely vigil, as the sexes are very difficult to tell apart. We imitated the male call, and immediately the bird tilted its head on one side and fixed us with rapt attention. It didn’t seem in the least concerned by our impersonation, even though we are perfectly sure, Dear Reader, that we do not present any resemblance to any Spotted Dove it had encountered before, and as we have a somewhat sore neck at the moment we weren’t about to head bob, either.
This little idyll persisted for what seemed like forever, although in reality it was just a minute or two. On climbing out of the pool and retrieving a towel from the side of the pool nearer to where the bird sat, we heard an identical (to our ears) coooo, coooo, crooo from a tree on the next property, and a second bird suddenly flew to sit next to the first one, which shifted uncomfortably for a moment or two.
The new arrival allowed the breeze to ruffle and fluff up its feathers, and it suddenly looked for all the world like a giant grey shuttlecock, at least twice the size of any normal bird. His mate, as we now presumed her to be, settled next to him, apparently comfortable again.
He bristled there and looked at us fiercely, with what we suppose was the equivalent of a Spotted Dove protective glare. She just gazed into space, unconcerned. It would be very easy to imagine her response to his later over-protective questioning would be “Who? Me?”
Rather than provoke an inter-species incident, we quietly retreated, and they settled down next to each other, for all the world like the King and Queen of their domain on their rickety paling pool fence thrones. Just enjoying the sunshine. Probably chatting about the need to get a new twig or two for the nest.
And somewhere, we assume, a single Dove was off resolutely looking for his conquest. Or maybe, the thought occurred, he has already found her, and they are seated too, somewhere nearby, basking in conubial avian bliss.
An unseen world, all around us, if we did but look. Not that the realisation will stop us turning the TV on tonight, but it did delay us. Today at least.