The Fall and Rise of Nature

One of the things I love about the green spaces in urban Hastings (St Helen’s Wood, Alexandra Park, Newgate Woods) is the rich variety of exotic and unusual trees planted decades ago, many helpfully labelled. Many of these are now magnificent, sturdy creatures of stature.  

However, one such tree that I’ve always enjoyed watching through the seasons each year – an Indian Horse-chestnut – came down in last week’s storms.

A native of the Himalayas, the Indian Horse-chestnut (Aesculus indica) is popular in many parks and estates in the UK, where it was introduced in the mid-19th century.

Although in some ways I’m sorry to see the tree fallen, this is not the end of the story.

One of my favourite posts in an old blog of mine is Twist of Fate (do please take a look) – my attempt at poetry about a fallen trunk in Alexandra Park that continues to give life.

Rewilding pioneers Isabella Tree and Sir Charlie Burrell describe how, in their early days of rewilding the Knepp estate in West Sussex, instead of cutting down a previously grand old – now rotting old – oak, made the counterintuitive decision to leave the tree to its own devices – “our first lesson in sitting on our hands and leaving Nature in the driving seat.”

They watched a whole new universe spring to life, as beetles, other saproxylic (dead wood eating) invertebrates and woodpeckers began to find a home and nutrition in this dying habitat.

Voles took up residence in the rabbit warrens amongst the tree’s roots, and a heron frequently perched itself on a lower limb that overlooked a lake.

Isabella and Charlie learnt to leave fallen branches from other trees on the ground – encouraging the natural process of fertilisation for the trees.

As Isabella puts it, “Death became a different kind of living.” [1]

Most spiritualities have a healthy and hopeful outlook on death and dying. My own Christian faith has resurrection hope at its centre. Nature (God’s first “Bible”[2]) has always shown us this, with its patterns of renewal, revival and resurrection amidst its ostensibly messy system of decay and dying.

I write this while struggling with a bereavement myself. Putting these reflections together turns out to be an important cathartic process, reminding me of the hope that I hold.

It’s thought that the Victorians are to blame for our obsession with tidying up. Tidiness may be useful in some contexts, but it spells disaster for ecosystems.

In Nature, nothing is wasted.

Dead wood and fallen trees become sources of vital nutrients, create fresh habitats for new visitors, and give rise to all kinds of life.

The collapse of the Indian Horse-chestnut is by no means the end, either of its own life or that of others. In fact, it might just be an auspicious sign of new beginnings.

I just hope and pray now that the authorities don’t decide to tidy the fallen tree away, but leave it to do what Nature does best.

(Photos all mine, but no copyright!)

[1] Wilding by Isabella Tree (London: Picador, 2018).

[2] See my recent blog post Nature – the first Bible


Winter Wonderland

Gorka, in January

There have been some years, since adopting Gorka, when I’ve slightly dreaded Winter, with the anticipation of drudging with the dog through mud, rain, darkness, cold, and the relative seasonal lifelessness of our local woods, day after day after damp, dreary day.

But the reality is never as bad as the expectation. I’ve never even minded the cold or rain that much.

And the thing that’s made Winter even more enjoyable more recently is my increasing realisation of the wildlife that does abound in what may appear to be a dead season, even in December and January, way before the obvious Spring flowers adorn our verges and woodlands.

Foe example, I was amazed to find these daffodils already in bloom on 5th January this year.

Early daffodils in Cornwallis Gardens, Hastings

I learned since then that different varieties of daffodil emerge at different times, explaining this delightfully ultra-early appearance.

A week later, on a more-Springlike-than-wintry, sunny day, I spotted my first Celandine of the year…

Celandine near Bewl Reservoir, 12th January

…and Three-cornered Leek flowers around the same time.

On 1st February, in our local woods, these first Spring Snowflakes of the year caught my eye. I returned with my camera on 3rd Feb, to find them glistening with morning raindrops.

Spring Snowflake (Leucojum vernum), in Newgate Woods, Hastings, 3rd February

All this flora, not to mention fauna including foxes and migratory birds, truly light up the darker days for me and put a pre-Spring spring in my step.

There’s so much to love about Winter!

Thank you Nature, Earth, Flowers and God for your gifts.


(All photos taken by me, but not copyright – i.e. feel free to use them, with my blessing!)

You might also be interested in my book:
Coming Home for Good (available on Amazon) is autobiographical, describing my journey out of spiritual, psychological and physical homelessness into a spiritual, psychological and physical home and a career managing a homeless healthcare service.

Hearts and Trees Entwined

I will be yours, you will be mine, together in eternity

Our hearts of love will be entwined, together in eternity, forever in eternity.”

My wife Janine and I sang these words from Brian Doerksen’s Eternity at our wedding 25 years ago today, on 21st December 1996, as a celebration of our union both with God and with each other.

I was reminded of the song recently when I came across these two chestnut branches wrapped round each other in Newgate Woods, the quiet woodland where I walk the dog most mornings.

I wondered if they were branches of the same tree….

… I stepped back…and back…

…until I could see that they were reaching across from two separate trees, fusing together at this point in the arboreal canopy (top left in the photo below).

It’s been said that the goal of all religion is the union or reconciliation of all things. For example, according to Paul, the end result of Jesus’ death, is that:
all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe – people and things, animals and atoms – get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies” (Colossians 1, The Message version).

I think that’s rather wonderful.

The entwining of branches is, of course, just a picture, an analogy, but one that beautifully illustrates the highest goal of humanity: our union with each other, with Nature, and with God, our Source.

“The Naturalist too often loses sight of the essential oneness of all living beings, in seeking to classify them into kingdoms, orders, families, genera, species, etc…. while the eye of the Poet, the Seer, never closes on the kinship of all God’s creatures, and his heart ever beats in sympathy with great and small alike as ‘earth-born companions and fellow mortals, equally dependent on Heaven’s eternal love’.”

John Muir

Reconciliation between individuals and between people groups; increasing respect and care for our environment; appreciation for Nature; the growth of faithful love between people; and the emergence of peace-giving faith all point towards a brighter, unified future.

Ivy supported by birch.
“Ivy uses trees and walls for support, allowing it to reach upwards to better levels of sunlight. It is not a parasitic plant and has a separate root system in the soil and so absorbs its own nutrients and water as needed. Ivy does not damage trees and its presence doesn’t indicate that a tree is unhealthy, and it doesn’t create a tree-safety issue.” (Woodland Trust)

Over our 25 years of marriage, our mutually supportive relationship with each other, with God and with Nature has evolved and grown. I hope that the entwining of our hearts and lives reveals something of that ultimate universal union.

In recent years, our – and especially Janine’s – love for and appreciation of trees has steadily grown. I dedicate this blog to her, with love.

Happy Silver Wedding Anniversary, sweetheart! x

Hastings beauties

“There’s lots of ugliness to see in the world and in people. But there’s goodness and beauty too – so much goodness and so much beauty. Saviors of many kinds abound, if we have eyes to see. But of course, unless we slow down enough to notice, we might as well be blind.” Brian McLaren in God Unbound: Theology in the Wild.

My morning dog walks before work are only 15 minutes in a little, urban woodland near to my home in Hastings. Despite its smallness and proximity to the town centre, Newgate Woods is amazingly rich in wildlife, to be enjoyed by those with a slow enough pace and eyes to see.

Goldcrest – the UK’s smallest bird
(photo taken 10/1/21 in Newgate Woods)

Buzzard – a recent addition to Hastings’ urban landscape – and its largest bird*: note its size compared with the magpie! (Photo taken a few weeks ago nearby)

Leaves in Newgate Woods this week

Not that I always encounter unusual or surprising things, but over this past frosty week, Nature has spoiled me rotten with an abundance of natural beauties:

Goldcrests (the UK’s, and therefore our town’s, smallest bird);

A buzzard (our town’s largest bird*);

A white squirrel;

A redwing;

A great-spotted woodpecker;

And a nuthatch;

As well as all the usual suspects, such as jays, blue tits, great tits, robins and blackbirds.

First redwing I’ve seen for a few years (Photo 9/1/21 in Newgate Woods)

Apologies, the photos aren’t the best, but they’re OK – and I enjoyed taking them!

I rarely encounter nuthatches, so it’s always a treat to see one.
(Photo taken 9/1/21 in Newgate Woods)

In these demanding times, emotionally and financially strained by global pandemic, it’s more vital than ever to stop and gaze at the faithful, divinely-given wonder of Nature all round us – to let it sink into our souls and raise our hopes.

Photo not from this week – taken Nov 2019 – but in the same area.

(All photos taken by me, but not copyright – i.e. feel free to use them, with my blessing!)

*EDIT: Apart from cormorants, herons and swans!