For my wife’s birthday, we left the noise of the city, searching for the quiet of the countryside, to seek solace in the silence of nature.
Walking, not exactly in wilderness – after all this is England, and we don’t really do ‘wild’ – we were refreshed, cleared our heads, and calmed down.
We love urban life. Its busyness and movement are exciting and energising. But sometimes you’ve got to get out, and slow down.
So each day, we walked, not far – she would have gone further, but I’m fearful of undertaking too much exertion.
On day one, we strolled through a forest. Rather small, by some countries’ standards; but for us, it sufficient – adventure, but not too adventurous.
We got lost once; although it’s not possible to get really lost in an English forest, as you might, for example in the Amazon.
Nevertheless it was enough for us to double back, and relocate the well-marked trails, laid out so touristic urban-dwellers don’t panic in the backwoods.
But the undergrowth was healing for my soul. Although, for me, it was a matter of gazing uncomprehendingly at the lush green vegetation, without a clue what I was looking at.
She, on the other hand, could name the trees, and notice the birds sitting on the branches. What was for me an undifferentiated mass, became for her a collection of particular discoveries.
Where I saw simply foliage, she could discern the individual Goldfinch perched on that specific tree-limb: an impression versus immediacy.
While we walked, I thought of a myriad subjects – planning, worrying, anticipating – yet she was paying attention, attending, to the sensations before her.
Where I am looking, she is perceiving. Where I am the abstract, she is the concrete. Where I am the mental, she is the natural.
This binary set-up summarises the difference between us. I enjoy fantasy, she loves haecceity – the isness of things, their uniqueness, their reality, facticity.
This became clearer when we visited the fen. What is a fen? Fens are the watery wetlands, mires, which characterise the part of Suffolk, we stayed in.
One is being restored, to its natural state – strange that ‘nature’ now needs ‘maintaining’ artificially, by human beings – admittedly only after we have spent centuries, polluting and destroying it.
On this fen, we learned, lives the second rarest spider in Britain (my wife could remember and tell you its name).
We examined carefully the pond it was supposed to live in, but we saw nothing. However my wife performed one of her miracles.
She loves to ask people things. In art exhibitions, she inquires of the attendants what their favourite painting is.
Here, we saw a man, armed with binoculars; and she asked him if he’d seen anything. Delighted to show off his knowledge, he indicated a tiny speck resting on a leaf in the pool.
Again, the detail in the description, made possible because with people too, she notices the interesting individual human being from whom enlightenment may come.