"Writing, my livelihood, is also my way of 'managing' nature, or making sense of it for my own purposes. It has even come to feel like a kind of land work, dependent on weather and the seasons and a fair helping of serendipity, and prodding, with luck, a crop of so many words per acre tramped."
From Home Country by Richard Mabey
March is the month for peregrine falcons in Avon Gorge. I know this not from experience but because the mouldy, shattered perspex information boards dotted around the Gorge edge tell me so. Now that it is March I cycle over to the downs on weekend mornings to spend a few minutes peering over the cliff, watching for peregrines.
On Saturday I saw one – my first ever.
The peregrine flew out from the opposite side of the gorge, flapping away from two large ice cream scoops of bygone quarries. The falcon looked to be making heavy weather before finding warm currents and corkscrewing up on the valley thermals, finally drifting languidly over the suspension bridge south towards Bedminster.
I looked around for someone to tell, but it dawned on me immediately that my excitement might not be contagious. Looking the other way, from the natural vista of the Gorge to the world of human activity on the Downs, I saw people using their nature time in different ways to me. Running, walking, cycling. Passing a football, chucking a frisbee. Groups in yoga bends. Weightlifters popping squats. Every now and again someone would pass close by, look down at the information board, briefly lift their head to gaze out vaguely across the gorge before walking on. Climbers scaled the cliff. A helmeted head popped up over the bramble startling two milk-eyed jackdaws and shouted "Clear!"
The Mabey quote above got me thinking about what we take from nature: Nature as resource. Normally when we talk about natural resources we are referring to commodities we can extract from the natural world: timber, rock, minerals, water, soil, grain, fruit, animals. These are commodities we use to maintain life, to build with and profit from.
There are other less tangible but equally valuable resources the natural world provides: The myriad ways it benefits our mental health (doctors prescribing walks instead of medicine), how it can provide a welcome sense of perspective or a much-needed change of pace. It can offer solitude or diverse company. The natural world is something to study, to enjoy. Something to prompt a touch of existentialism. We don't have to take anything physically from it in order for it the natural world to be resource-full. Richard Mabey harvests a “crop” of words from nature. I can watch for a peregrine for free, leaving no impact, and I too can even harvest some words.
The beautiful pale blue shifting V spirals up into the March sky. My heart soars. The experience is candescent in my memory, dutifully recorded in a few subdued lines in my notebook. The March peregrine: Mined for words, harvested for meaning, panned for its glittering gold. A natural resource. And now as it passes from computer to server to computer it is also a subject line in your inbox, complete with its very own carbon footprint.
PS. J.A. Baker's The Peregrine is one of my favourite pieces of nature writing. More poetry than prose, I highly recommend it if you can find a copy from a local bookshop.