Thursday, 4 April 2019

On Gift Giving and the Wild Eye of Prayer

A small gift from the Mac Gwylans? Plus a tiny slug.

Today I have had a chat to the everyday angel pigeons in our garden, together with indulging in a rather acrimonious exchange with a jackdaw, who seemed to feel that I wasn't putting his breakfast out in quite the right way. I was faffing about a bit I know but Jackdaws can be terribly demanding.

An everyday angel, beautiful in the blossom 

Speaking of demanding, I thought that I would share with you this possible tiny wonder and small beauty. Every Wednesday I pop to the shops and for a coffee with my dad-in-law. Yesterday we set off as usual and our garden path was empty. When we came back several hours later the ceramic decoration from one of the pots in our back garden had appeared exactly in the middle of the path! It is quite large; maybe 3 inches across, and is biscuit-thin so it must have been carried and put down very carefully. It is a mystery.

Beautifully placed in the centre of the garden path

My only thought is that Mr Mac Gwylan  the herring gull ('gwylan' is Welsh for gull) gathered it up and put it there. Things tend to move around here, as both the foxes and the magpies like to pick things up, play with them, and then put them down somewhere else. A magpie recently appeared with the cover of one of our long-gone garden lights, which is like a little sparkly ball, in his beak and it is now often put in, or taken out of, our garden pots. I have also seen a magpie do the same with a piece of broken pot, but I think that this is too large for a magpie to carry so carefully and the foxes would have been fast asleep at that time of day.

Mr Mac Gwylan considering my shortcomings as a host 

You may recall that last year we looked after a herring gull chick who had come down from the roof too early in the exceptionally hot weather and had hurt his wing. If you would like to read more about him you can do that here. He was here for a few days and his parents were watching closely. There was much communication between adults and chick, although they didn't venture down into the garden. Eventually he had to go to a specialist wildlife rescue centre as we were afraid that his wing was broken (It was only a sprain. Phew!) My husband, Simon, spent much time explaining to the chick's parents that he was safe and that we were doing our best for him. We were sad at the thought that they might consider him lost.

Steve Mac Gwylan, the baby herring gull

Every year, gulls return to the same place to nest and we were overjoyed when the Mac Gwylans returned after New Year. In the past we haven't had much to do with them, other than admiring them on the roof and ooohing and ahhhing at their gangly babies, but this year they have been popping down to the garden to drink from the pool of water Simon made for last year's chick to splash in and I have been putting out a few mealworms for them by the garden gate. Generally, Mr Mac Gwylan comes down first and his lady sits on the roof making concerned noises, but she comes down too in the end or he goes up to get her. Yesterday, when I went to fill the bird feeder, which they can't get to as their wings are too wide, he made it quite clear that they would also like some snacks. I wonder whether the ceramic disk was a thank you, or a bribe! Either way it was lovely to wonder about that and I have put it on our garden table with all our other nature finds.

The more that I spend time with the birds the more I feel that I understand (a little) the amazing complexity of their communication, the richness of their social interactions with one another, the tides of their cyclical comings & goings. It is a beautiful thing. And a privilege to even consider that they sometimes notice me. They feel like family and they make this feel like home.

Everyday angels

Today, I had hoped to write about St Cuthbert, which I have been planning to do for several weeks, but what follows is what came instead. As Cuddy is sometimes credited as the ‘first conservationist’ for introducing laws to protect nesting seabirds on the Farne Islands as long ago as the 7th Century, and was said to have been brought gifts by ravens, perhaps I have written what he would have wanted after all. I try very hard to listen to what the day asks of me. I will return to him soon, to Welsh St Cenydd, who was born with a disability and cast out to sea in a willow basket only to be rescued by seagulls, and to Irish St Caoimhín, who had a blackbird build a nest and lay an egg in his open hand when he stretched out his arms out to pray, and who remained in stillness until the egg hatched and the fledgling flew. We have much to learn about relationship with the wild from our holy ancestors.

'St Kevin & the Blackbird, Clive Hicks-Jenkins. From

Returning to our gift from the gulls; of late there has been a lot of discussion here and there about the language we use when referring to the natural world. How, if we are to play our part in preserving or even saving, words matter and need to speak to the heart. We need to fall back in love with the earth. One thing that particularly struck me was the suggestion to stop talking about 'nature reserves', as though some bits of earth can be set aside for nature to live quite happily whilst we do what we like with the rest ~ to be fair, that is the prevailing mindset but it really needs to be challenged. There is no room for complacency or for feeling pleased with ourselves just because we allow something, anything, to stay green. Instead, we might really engage with what is happening and speak of 'nature refuges'; a place of sanctuary for our wild refugees who have had their homes taken by diggers, and landscapers, and poisons, who have been chased across an increasingly barren land to the very edges of endurance and survival. Our gardens, or even a little balcony or a windowsill, can be refuges too, no matter how small or unpromising we might consider them to be. It is a privilege to be in service to and to watch over any land in a world where so many are landless. There are (a very few) people on this planet who don't care about life, not even their own, and those of us who do care have to hold the line for life itself. All of nature is speaking; “don't mourn, organise”.

We have increased numbers of everyday angel pigeons here now because the army barracks, where so many had roosted, probably for generations, were bulldozed last summer to make room for a new estate. It is the same with the fire-flame foxes. There are more and more squashed into a smaller and smaller area because their earths and hunting grounds have been taken from them. No wonder that mange spreads amongst them. We are currently treating several who visit our garden and who are in a sad state. The badgers are gone; their setts, possibly centuries old, abandoned or lost, or perhaps they just can't bear to come this way. We shouldn’t assume that a badger’s heart can’t also be broken. Rats, who had lived quite happily in the, by now empty, army barracks were forced into the nearby estate and were poisoned. To discourage them trees and bushes were cut down. Before that, despite their close proximity to human habitation, they had bothered no one. The one strip of green that isn't mowed every spring by the council has also been poisoned, dowsed in glysophates, parched earth. Others put down astroturf, because we are all just too busy to care for our gardens. And I don't judge, or try not to; we’re ALL pushed to the very edges of endurance and survival in one way or another and it is just one more thing amongst many. We all fail. There is just no time to care in a world where caring only breaks our hearts, but that is not an excuse, not really. The crows' nests; 100 year old trees, have been felled; there was a man, a tree surgeon, almost in tears over them at a developers 'consultation' event here last year. And even the 'affordable housing' for these new estates are squeezed out to the edges too. It is all the same thing; what we do to the wild we do to ourselves. They cut down the crows' trees, destroy the foxes' earths, and make neat little boxes as battery farms to keep us, the fodder of Capitalism, just happy enough, but worn down just enough too.

Nina George in her Spring 2016 essay, ‘Everything Breathes the Revolutionary Spirit’, for ‘Gods and Radicals’ quarterly which I return to for sustenance again and again, tells the story of four men who were hanged in Chicago in 1887 for being leaders of a movement demanding workers’ rights and an eight hour day. All of the men spoke passionately and eloquently in court in their defence. One, August Spies, used examples from nature to suggest that revolution and resistance are a natural state; that “a force can be brought to try to push us down but this can never stop us. We rise. We grow. No one can stop the inevitable growth of the land, its people, and the forces we contain...Revolution is ever present in all beings’ spirits and lungs.” Everything breathes the revolutionary spirit; a plant that’s cut down will grow again wherever it can, birds who lose their brood will lay more eggs. Life is always bubbling up through the cracks. We must embrace that energy; finding the cracks where life can get in and playing our part in putting it, and keeping it, there for as long as we can. And if, and when, that fails, we must look for more cracks. As Nina George writes, we must be “the green fuse that refuses.”

And we do all need to refuse and find refuge; not to be thought of as us doing our wildlife a 'favour', because we need refuge too and I am quite sure that I gain more from the beings who find shelter here than they from me. But this is one time when we are all in it together. All of nature is in deep communication and trying to communicate with us, in solidarity. “Wake up!” they say, “remember that you are not alone.” The badgers, the foxes, the nettles, the blackthorn, the bees; everything breathes the revolutionary spirit. And of course they are speaking to us. Our planet is dying and we are the ones who are killing her. Why would they want us to give up and sink into despair? There is only even more death that way.

But we do have power, although we are encouraged to think otherwise. Where there is still even the tiniest piece of land for us to call kindness and generosity in there is hope. And so I will rejoice in being told off by jackdaws, and in spending money we haven't got on birdseed, and speak out when it's suggested to me that we buy wheat-free seed to 'put off' the pigeons, because what matters more in life than the breaking of bread in good company, and I will believe that the herring gulls, who are on the RSPB red list as being 'at risk' on our hugely nature depleted little island, have brought us a precious ceramic disk as a gift, because I have to believe that they too know there is still love and hope in the world.

"For Earth to survive, she needs your heart. The songbirds and the salmon need your heart too, no matter how weary, because even a broken heart is still made of love. They need your heart because they are disappearing, slipping into that longest night of extinction, and the resistance is nowhere in sight. We will have to build that resistance from whatever comes to hand: whispers and prayers, history and dreams, from our bravest words and braver actions. It will be hard, there will be a cost, and in too many implacable dawns it will seem impossible. But we will have to do it anyway. So gather your heart and join with every living being.” (Deep Green Resistance)

Thank you, Mr and Mrs Mac Gwylan for the wild eye of your prayer. I am listening, with every cell I am listening.

True love

Aho mitake oyasin. For all our relations.


  1. I am listening too. Thank you, Jacqueline and the Mac Gwylans, for this beautiful call to awakening and resistance.

    1. Thank you so much, Mary. It is lovely, always, to know that others are listening to. And, of course, there are many of us xxx

  2. "even a broken heart is still made of love"... yes, yes, yes. and only the heart---all our hearts breaking together and holding fast together and reaching out to our kindred creatures---will help us or save us all. the mind is useful, but it is also rather blind, and without the heart to lead it we are lost.

    i love the story of the pot ornament, and i believe you are right to think that the gulls may have moved it for you. it's most certainly within the realm of possibility!

    may we all listen well.

    1. So beautifully put and I so agree. It's our minds that have brought us to this in so many ways, wonderful though they are. Time for the heart to rise, broken or mended. And what is broken anyway, other than a constant process of mending.

      I'm so pleased that you also think that the gulls may have put the piece of pot there. Certainly something large moved it and I can't think how else it can have got there but either way I love the mystery!


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I genuinely do appreciate and value what you have to say. For some reason I am currently struggling to reply but I am reading everything you say and I am grateful. I will work on the replying!