Today I have been looking after my niece. We have been wandering around the garden, examining insects – (all of which she idiosyncratically refers to as ‘Ladybugs’) – and I have every confidence that she will go on to be a pioneering entomologist!
It reminded me of how an appreciation of the natural world is innate in us, and only later lost, as our quest for pleasure becomes confined to silicon screens; consigned as useless because, while it may make us happy, it will not make us money or orgasms – better to get lost in the pulse of clubs and pornography, than listen to the jukebox of songbirds in succession.
There is a virtue to being a small child: from the vantage of your innocence and unworldly perspective, you look at things more closely, with a more immediate intensity; even seeing a single ant in motion was enough to make my niece gasp – when was the last time you gasped in wonder at something so small, it could be crushed by your little finger?
It reminded me of my own innate love for nature as a child. At Primary School, I always loved those activities that most involved interplay with other forms of life: catching crickets in the long-grasses; fishing for newts, insects, and fish with our nets in the pond – and if you ever had the good fortune to capture a frog, you were tantamount, for a day, to a king.
Now, as I write this, I am reclining on a sandy bank against a willow tree I have known since I was four. Its long, sinewy flanks lie horizontal on the river’s edge; and for its sheer clamberability, and adjacency to water, it was our imaginal ‘Pirate Ship’ when we were children. We would climb its limbs, improvising stories – the River Usk a gateway to the rollicking high seas.
This again shows how natural creativity is – the desire to ‘make things up’ – the eternal art of story-telling. For so many of our ancestors, whether read from a book, improvised, or from memory, the relating of stories would have formed much of the entertainment and social cohesion during idle hours – an opportunity for a whole family or community to be transported together into the past – into The Dream Time – into the bourn of other worlds.
Now, there is the sense that stories are only acceptable within the safe confines of a film or paperback novel – people seldom get together to tell stories anymore. It’s almost as though we fear fiction – we fear imagination – as though, if we do not keep it too tightly imprisoned within a well-ordered space, it may threaten to spill over into our reality, and stretch and warp it beyond our means of comprehension.
But reality and imagination are inseparable. Reality feeds imagination, and imagination ornaments and modifies reality. Nature is the collective dream of gods, daemons, and faeries; art, culture, and civilization are the hardened nightmares and fancies of women and men.
This is something that children intuitively understand. Nature is more than just a resource, a biologic reductionism, a house dead of green furnishings – it is the birth place of dreams. An ant is not just ant, but an introduction to an adventure – a flower is not just a flower, but a portal to another world.
And if you were infinitely small, and capable of falling into the cup of a bluebell as into a wormhole, who’s to say what worlds of magic iridescence you would endlessly discover?