Outside the library, a drama is unfolding. A crow perches on an aerial, complaining loudly. Two jackdaws watch from the roof and a herring gull peers down from a chimney. At intervals, the crow flies towards the building and back again, still calling; a posse of more jackdaws and gulls appear. The sky churns with black and white bodies, circling the top of the building. I don’t know whose drama this is. Perhaps the crow has a nest nearby that is being threatened, perhaps the threat is from the crow himself. I know something is going on, but I don’t understand it.
In the park, I walk into another drama. A blackbird cries alarm relentlessly from the hedge. On the grass, a trail of grey feathers leads to the bloody carcass of a pigeon, abandoned on the ground. I don’t know what has had the pigeon. I don’t know if the predator is still around and this is why the blackbird calls, or if there is another, unseen threat.
Outside the supermarket, I sit in the sun eating a sandwich on my lunch break. Beside me on the bench, a pair of hoverflies entwine. They stay there, seemingly motionless, until my sandwich is gone. Suddenly, the male moves off, flying drunkenly to another part of the bench. He lurches twice into the air and back down again, before he is able to fly away. The female, meanwhile, calmly grooms herself. After a while, she rises up, hovers in my face for a few seconds as if to scold me for my voyeurism, then she too is gone.
In the garden, my laundry births spiders. On the duvet cover hung on the line this morning, a patch of spiderlings, each one a few millimetres long, huddles in a circle. They begin to scatter as soon as they feel my touch on the fabric. Their mother will have died in the autumn, leaving an egg sac. I don’t know whether the sac was attached to the washing line or blew onto the duvet cover from elsewhere, but they have hatched there in the few hours the laundry was outside. I gently transfer those that haven’t already escaped onto a garden table. Within seconds, a thread has been launched from table to chair to the nearest plant and I watch a procession of tiny funambulists beginning their journeys into the world.
Sometimes I think that despite all our distractions humans are the loneliest species on the planet. Lonely because we stand outside of nature. Because we don’t know our place in the world. A spider knows what it is born for. It instinctively knows what to do with its life. Whereas we, with all our choices, find it difficult to grasp the meaning of them. Spring takes place all around us. The trees know that they must clothe themselves in leaves. The flowers know that they must sprout. The birds know that they must nest. And when spring comes, we feel the call to action too, but we don’t know what to do with it.
I can’t grasp the dramas that are taking place because I’ve lost the language for it. I can observe, try to understand, but I can’t feel that imperative of life and death that the rest of the earth surely feels. I will always be outside the drama because my human mind wants to label and compartmentalise. My human mind says that laundry is no place for the birth of spiders, but to the spiders is it just a part of their world. Yet I feel joy when I witness some of nature’s tiny dramas. I feel lucky to have been given a glimpse of them. I feel part of the world, not apart from it. And I make sense of them by writing them down. Perhaps to understand them, perhaps to feel closer to them – not as a scientist, but as someone affected by the emotion of that moment.
Writing is my connection to the earth. Paradoxical maybe, because describing things with language can distance us from them. But I always feel most connected when the writing is flowing – whether from the pen or brewing in my mind. Perhaps because this creativity comes from something in the earth. Our first stories were ways of making sense of our place in the world. Creation myths that explained how we got here. Stories that helped us to understand the weather and the workings of the natural world. And who is to say the song of a bird isn’t his story, or the dance of a bee isn’t hers? A story is more than words, it is a connection. The best stories remind me that my life has never been lived outside the world, but always as just another little drama within the whole.