‘Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees…. while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.’ John Muir
‘I am a little piece of nature.’ Albert Einstein
Utter calm. Often, it appears unexpectedly and by chances, stealing in when you think it’s somewhere else. It’s not easy to come by. But it was there that day – not in a deep, remote landscape, but in Bath’s Botanical Gardens, with the sound of the Easter holiday fun fair thumping persistently from Victoria Park.
That elusive peace enfolded us – my husband, daughter and me – as we sat on a bench, watching the spring sunlight pulse its reflection amongst the leaves over the pool, just letting the life of the gardens come to us…
In the early afternoon, with the morning cloud dissolved, and the blue skies of the preceding days restored, we weren’t the only ones enjoying the warmth and awakening earth in that hidden corner. Above us, by the ‘Temple of Minerva,’ where a natural spring glints the spare-coin offerings of passing wish-makers, a woodpigeon cooled itself in the cascade – and a dunnock splashed amongst the lower tiers of rock.
Earlier, the dunnock had sprung from the ground to the top of the bush close beside me, threading the air with its clear, piercing notes, marking its territory. Now, a male blackbird torpedoed the underside of the leaves overhanging the pool, picking off an insect as it made contact. As he landed, another male blackbird collided into his space, assessed his dilemma, twitched in an uneasy stand-off, stood his ground for a second and then startled away.
Blackbird photographed at the same spot by the pool in Bath Botanical Gardens, June 2010.
In the tree tops, blue tits swung and hopped from branch to branch, busy in constant conversation with each other. A couple of long-tailed tits emerged from a bush, like little pendulums balanced on the ends of branches. And then, above us in the vegetation by the cascade, we caught sight of our first orange tip butterfly of the year. It tumbled downwards, circled and then rose, like a visual representation of thought-patterns; playing out a dance of forgetting then remembering. And, all this time, the trees resounded with birdsong – enough to fill the mind’s focus, and to dismiss the thudding vibrations from the fun fair music and rides.
All around the gardens, the magnolia trees were in full bloom, their old branches twisting in a controlled, contorted dance. Holding up their flowers like cups offered to the sky, their petals spilled to the ground – and everywhere tree blossom buzzed with bees and drifted around us like pink snow. Earlier, we had lingered in the wildflower area – loving the chance to see snake’s head fritillaries. They were almost over with their flowering – reminding me that another year’s opportunity for a visit to Cricklade Meadow, to see them in the wild, would soon be slipping away…
But, for now, no matter; these park cousins are beautiful.
Snake's Head Fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris
Within the metal railings that encircle these gardens, nature is packed in, brimming with colour and variety, like the concentrated contents of a tin of assorted sweets. Sitting by the pool, the usual nagging inner voices and thoughts, for once, have shut up – for a brief time. It feels so good to sit here, in this little piece of nature, unwinding through the pulse of the day – and to unfurl, like the leaf buds around us, from the winter.
From our bench, we can glimpse the head and arms of Lee Dickson’s tree sculpture, Mankind’s Hand in Nature, similarly unfurling towards the sky through the vegetation.
Around seven metres tall, it rises from the ground, keeping alive the spirit of the sequoia from which it is carved.
The tree, one of the original twelve giant redwoods to be brought to Britain in the 1850s, sadly succumbed to honey fungus in recent years, and Lee Dickson, a local chainsaw sculptor from Radstock, was commissioned in 2001 to create the sculpture as a celebration of the tree’s life and place in the gardens.
And these gardens certainly are a place to celebrate life; to come to for peace and repose, and to fit back into nature’s cycles. We were here the week before too, with our son. Pushing his wheelchair as close to the railings as we could get, we watched the huge koi carp glide silently in the pool…
…and greeted a moorhen rushing through the light…
…before wandering through the gardens and Victoria Park, past the daffodils and blossom…
…past the flowering lesser celandine and violets…
…to Bath Abbey Churchyard to listen to the buskers.
On the Abbey’s face, the angels were engaged in their endless climb…
– and fall…
…on the ladder to heaven.
But it wasn’t a day for falling angels.
…Too much earthy life emerging – too much of the turn of the planet – all around and in our selves.
…And that seems an appropriate cue for a song that’s been our son’s favourite since he was tiny; his ‘magic song’ with the power to soothe like none other:
Follow the Heron by Karine Polwart
‘The back of the winter is broken
And light lingers long by the door
And the seeds of the summer have spoken
In gowans that bloom on the shore…’
It’s a beautiful celebration of both an outer and inner transition into spring. That cusp and co-existence of ‘ice’ (or in the case of today’s weather here, lots of rain!) and growing light… Enjoy!