Foraging and Kipling

As the old joke goes…

Q: “Do you like Kipling?”

A: “I don’t know, I’ve never kippled”

When I was ten or eleven years old Rudyard Kipling was my favourite poet. Sure, I liked the Jungle Book too, but it was the poems that inspired. My given name being Richard my family called me Rick, and because of Kipling often made that Riki-tiki-tavi after the mongoose. Of course, at that age I was blissfully unaware of his jingoist colonialism, and poems like Gunga Din and Tommy were just clever stories and easy rhyme to my young eye and ear. What most people are unaware of is his more ‘pastoral’ side with poems and stories about rural Sussex, although my favourite then and still one I relate to, is better known – The Way Through The Woods (Transcribed below). Phrases like ‘trout-ringed pools‘ and ‘...badger rolls at ease‘ are as evocative as any. 

My inner tranquil place is a track in native bush in New Zealand; Hongi Hika’s Track.  The bird song there is eerie, Tui’s calling, distant Bell Birds and the constant tweeting of Fantails. But it is the Trees and forest floor, clad in fern and moss and its tricking streams that I use in my mind’s eye to become calm and (sorry to be so muesli and sandals) centred.

Shelf Fungus sp. Stereum complicatum

Forays into the oak and chestnut, ash and holly here in Kent’s remaining ancient woodlands are as much a religious experience as exercise or interest. My personal spirituality includes no gods; no catechism or prayer. I have no idea if any unseen hand or eye frames natures symmetry and daily miracles. Not knowing, I assume nothing ‘supernatural’ but solidly super nature. I cannot explain the beginning of all things, but evolution explains the rest. That’s god enough for me, I do not have quite sufficient arrogance to pretend to understand creation and sticking a label on it as a deity just seems the same as saying you don’t understand. I certainly don’t buy into some personalised god or gods that has a relationship with humanity, let alone us individual apes. But I do see repeated patterns in the form of fungi or the shapes of leaves and the structure of shells and crystals. 

Turkeytail Fungus Polyporus versicolor

What occurs to me is that our concept of form and pattern is born of that nature. Because we observe mathematic relationships, balance and structure we look for an architect, instead of realising that our science and art reflects what we observe. Why are we so sure that creators explain Fibonacci sequences in nature? Equilibriums exists and our discoveries uncover them, but the science follows the facts, there need be no great designer! We discover something which is actually built in to our biology and mind set, there is pattern or no pattern because we have created the very concepts of pattern and randomness. 

I’ve been appreciating nature my entire conscious life and am saddened that some few do not. I enjoy cataloging and explaining it too, but just being surrounded by trees and moss, ferns and bramble, birdsong and leaf-litter spices is brilliant.


THEY shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods.

Rant it out!
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