Dé Máirt 28 Meitheamh 2011

Redstarts - living ‘wholly and enviably to themselves’

John Andrew Wright

I was watching BBC’s Springwatch last week, and Chris Packham read an extract written by ornithologist John Buxton in 1943 while he was a prisoner in a war camp in Bavaria. Apparently much of what we know about Redstarts (pictured) has been gained from this man’s observations. I was really struck by the extract, and thought I’d share it.
‘One of the chief joys of watching these birds in prison was that they inhabited another world than I. They lived wholly and enviably to themselves unconcerned in our fatuous politics, without the limitations imposed all about us by our knowledge. They lived only in the moment, without foresight and with memory only of things of immediate practical concern to them.’
Imagine being in prison, and living your life through the birds you see flying free out of your window? It would keep me sane, I can tell you. I often do it from my own bedroom window! I can’t explain why I love birds so much, but I would say it is because they seem to have this sort of philosophy as described above. Philosophy is the wrong word here, as Buxton has just said that it is in fact our ‘knowledge’ and ‘love of knowledge’ that imposes the limitations on us… Their way of life then, the way they live only for the moment, and deal with things as they happen. To take every day as it comes, and to enjoy it. To sing, to fly, to eat!
Basic functions, but so delightful. We don’t take delight in these basic functions ourselves, not really. We think too much for our own good, and we’re always in a hurry to get to something that is always ahead of us. I think we should take a leaf out of the Redstart’s book, and enjoy every day, and concern ourselves only with our own little patch. If everyone looked after their own patch themselves with patience and dedication, the whole world would be a much better place.

See this blog by Squeak’s Wheel for another meditation on the same extract.

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