It’s not cool these days to express joy in some of the simple things in life; meadows full of wild flowers, the scent of a pine forest on a warm, still day or a bird of prey soaring overhead. Our lives, individually and collectively, are poorer for it and so too, I suspect, is our literature. It seems to me that we are so preoccupied with navel-gazing, so careful to pursue the course that fashionable consumerism sets out for us that a lot of the richness that’s provided for free passes us by.
I like being in southern Sweden a lot but haven’t had time to just sit back and enjoy it at its own pace until this year. This is a place of countryside and a place of nature. Sweden’s a big place with a small population – around nine million over about 174000 square miles and most of them in the three main cities. Compare that to the UK, where just over 61 million are crammed into a seemingly tiny 94500 square miles. What you get here is space. If you get off the beaten track you really are on your own so if nature and all things natural captivate and seduce you, like they do me, then the past few weeks of summer here have been something special. It’s been a time of long cycle rides and walks through the forest; local strawberries, chilled Orvieto in the shade and dinners at Kåseberga on the coast with friends. But, mostly, it’s been a time of wildlife.
We had a long, cold winter – so miserable that I fled to balmier climes after week upon week of deep snow and very, very sub-zero temperatures. But following-on from a cold spring we have been enjoying hot, sunny days with temperatures frequently in the high 20s centigrade and sometimes above 32. The late onset of warmer weather held back spring so this period has been a condensed experience, with a fresh green landscape set against the long days that are the hallmark of midsummer.
The ground falls away beyond the fence at the end of the garden here and drops into Fyledalen, a huge area of mixed woodland, rough grazing and valley slopes. So we’re a real and close part of the nature that surrounds us. As I write this three or four young Long-eared Owls are calling into the night, one of two broods that we have in the village this year. A dog Fox was just barking and there are Hedgehogs on the lawn. It’s truly dark only for about four hours a night so evening and dusk last for several hours. Earlier, as twilight hung on an early migrant Northern Harrier made its way lazily south-west while we watched Hobbies hawking for beetles over the apple trees at the end of the road. Thrush Nightingales were still providing an occasional burst of song and tonight two rivals were competing from opposite ends of a small plantation. Two Woodcock were still ‘roding’ around their territories.
During the day Common Redstarts have been feeding their young in the garden but the two pairs of Pied Flycatchers have moved away from the boxes and only visit now as occasional individuals. Coffee on the deck last week was interrupted by an immature Icterine Warbler in the adjacent hedge and a Lesser-spotted Woodpecker in the Oak Tree.
It’s hard to avoid so much activity and, if you don’t go looking for it – as we did for young Tawny Owls in the valley a few evenings ago, when we counted 22 – it comes to you; standing quietly in the garden at dusk this week a young Badger shuffled all the way over to me to check if my sneakers were edible. Out in Fyledalen Fallow Deer are calving and Roe Deer are seen with new kids. The Wild Boar start farrowing in May so we’ve already seen the spotted piglets running at the feet of the adult animals. Golden Eagles nest in the valley and, although we see them frequently, we’re always amazed at how easily such a huge bird can remain out of sight. White-tailed Eagles are also breeding on an island in a nearby lake. Common and Honey Buzzards are often in the sky and the Red Kites are ubiquitous. We’ll have hundreds of Cranes overhead when the migration really gets underway but were thrilled to have the first one over the garden this week, circling high in a clear sky and trumpeting loudly.
Add to all this a huge variety of butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies [and a few things that bite you] as well as wildflowers in the woodland and valley and it becomes a multifarious experience. As I wrote at the start of this, it’s a joy and a simple pleasure that is easy to overlook in the race to be cool or famous.
A busy life can get in the way of enjoying simple pleasures and, like most people I guess, pursuing a hectic career has tended to take precedent for me. I’m not certain, however, that I ever lost sight of my appreciation of what I wanted to get out of it all as I shouldered my way on and off the 7.34 to Liverpool Street. Life today sometimes seems to have the wrong complexion and clearly puts massive demands on people’s time. It seems to me though that many of the values held as important are both shallow and superficial, measured as they are in degrees of fame or acquisition.
It’s hard to find either the space or the variety in nature in the UK and one almost certainly has to travel to a protected area to find it. Here it’s still abundant and all around us and it’s been a joy to experience.