To let loose your humanity, you need to acknowledge the truth of a few propositions. They are all home truths, and together they provide headings about what it is to be human. With that set out it will then be time to sort out their implications as to how we should live.

1.  Mortality : We are born to die.

2. The Necessities of Living : Doing.

3. Plentiful Existence : More than enough.

4. The spirit of Being : Imagination.

5. Self and Others : Living together.

6. Delight.


"The Long Literalness of Life"

" The long literalness of life" is such that we have to embellish it as best we can. Provide a clothes-hanger on which to hold it together. Many of us, however, find comfort in the daily routines of bodily being.

Motives bear only slight or accidental relation to the worth of things we achieve. We may set out to accomplish something of note but finish-up as an inventor of pesky distractions.


Motivation: Push and Pull

Motivation matters because it keeps us alert and eager. We may 'push' for release from the staid familiarity of a stagnant present by setting our sights on the 'pull' of prospects we may know next to nothing about. In the absence of some such motivation, however, we are likely to expose ourselves to the dice of happenstance or to time's indifference.

Although motivation was for long - and for some- a gift of upbringing, schooling, personality, example and obligation, tutors of this kind are on the wane. In their place motivation is now outsourced to the 'pull' of market forces and their technologies, whose business is to instil in us all the manufactured motivation we can ingest. Yet if it is not satisfactory to be 'pulled' this way and that by market forces, it becomes necessary to 'push' ourselves in order not to be 'pulled apart.' Chekhov wrote that " a reasoned life without a definite outlook is not a life, but a burden and a horror."


Market Forces

Although we two have developed green fingers we also dabble in the market for 'By to Let' properties. As with rival punters we have discovered that demand for our offerings can be rewarding. Economists reckon that one in thirty adults- including one in four MPs - have become part-time landlords. Many investors have retired from full-time work and enjoy being neither architects nor exactly entrepreneurs. The return on capital invested is uncertain because our flighty clients come and go as they please. Would-be customers are often wary of market forces because they have been brought up to construct their own residencies, or take over properties that have been abandoned. Even so there is at present a lively interest in the market for off-the-peg residencies. Pricey though they can be, state of the art buildings make it possible to do away with the grubby labours of do-it-yourself construction.

By and large, however, the quirks of individual tastes take a lot of beating. The snag is, however, that neighbours, predators and sharp-eyed business moguls, are prompted by the same impulses as other interested parties who take the trouble to make or purchase what they fancy. This means that those of us who dabble in the market for homes are in a dubious position when it comes to policing the nest boxes they have put together,  purchased or plundered. Nature is more at home when imposing the 'market forces' of supply and demand, than abiding by the rules of fair play. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.


The 'nature' of 'Nature'

Although it has thus far proved impossible to describe what is meant by nature to the satisfaction of everybody, it is difficult not to have some idea as to the nature of 'mother nature'. After all, she or it is all the given world including us. Even though we cannot specify what we are even so part of, there is no discounting Nature. The natural world into which we are born to live and die includes water and sand of great variety and extent, animals, fish and other species of life, as well as a wide assortment of trees, materials, grasses and insects. Our guts contain lots of helpful microbes we are hardly aware of.  What is thus likely to be our fate should human beings flog the rest of Nature to death? Science and technologies may urge us to dispense with the irregularities and limitations of Nature in favour of manufactured things better suited to satisfy our needs and likes.

1.  Human dependence on Nature does not ensure that we can depend on it. In ancient times many religions were more interested in our relations to the Gods than the given facts of Nature. Even so, humankind was in no position to ignore its dependence on the vagaries of Nature. The task of agriculture, commerce, industry, invention and science, was to harness and improve upon Nature's plentiful, 'natural resources'. Meanwhile the Gods remained other-worldly. But although Tennyson upheld the belief that love was "creation's final law", he was worldly enough to state that  "nature, red in tooth and claw shrieked against his creed".

2.  Rousseau blamed the greed and conflicts that blighted 'human nature' not on the paucity of Nature, but on mankind's 'unnatural' refusal to acknowledge that "the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody". The "sensitive morality" he proposed argued that Nature was a schooling in how best to live well and in harmony. Although Rousseau's godless deification of Nature turned out to be on the wrong side of modern history, his reasoning had implications for many aspects of human being, including politics and personal conduct.

3.  In the event, industrialism proved incompatible with any 'return to the innocence of nature'. But although her generosity was crucial to the pursuit of wealth, plenty of poets, artists, writers, godly men and gardeners upheld the theme that the beauty of Nature was vital to living well. Keats wrote that "Beauty is truth, truth beauty- that is all Ye know on earth,and all ye need to know".

4.  When subjects of absolute rulers became reclassified as citizens, their claims to take part in public affairs came to be grounded less on tenets of religion, manifest reason, or the demands of creating wealth. Their mainstay rested on moral suppositions imputed to Nature but which however were gainsaid by counter-conceptions of an impersonal Nature utterly indifferent to the 'unnatural' wishes of its most precocious offspring.

Energy and Anxiety

Fortunate or foolish enough to fall for an abandoned remnant of a house and its patch of scrub, it soon became plain that I could not be motivated without the driving force of energy. Huffing and puffing indoors and out is also preferable to the stale "monotony of standard reality." Joseph Brodsky claimed that "everything that displays a pattern is pregnant with boredom."

With ageing it is nevertheless difficult not to become specialists in the decline of energy and thus unwilling experts in anxieties brought about by the reluctant passage of barren time. Anxiety threatens to undermine us because we no longer have the energy and guile to look forward to we know-not what until passing the time comes about in the form of safe-as-houses repetition.


Systems and Processes

When lost for words either stay mum or adopt language that advertises knowledge. These days politics is portrayed in terms of 'systems' composed of 'processes'. Rulers and ruled are steeped in the 'processes' of government because both are embroiled in 'systems' of administration. Economics is similarly indebted : neither citizens nor consumers count for much because the business of markets is composed of impersonal 'processes' and 'systems' that make, advertise and sell things and services that typify post- industrial life.

'Systems' and 'Processes' are thus verbal signs of active mental agility. Unlike 'organisation and its components' which more rigorous thinking has now upstaged, they advertise familiarity with scientific idioms and their worldly applications. Most anything that is not deemed integral to its 'systems' and 'processes' is considered a waste of time. But if everything under the sun boils down to 'systems' and 'processes' there is surely no need to go on about something that is implicit and pervasive. It is thus indulgent waffle to describe modern methods of transport, education, health and entertainment as 'systems' and 'processes' because nobody argues otherwise. The 'diplomatic process' is a pleonasm.

But if Nature and human history are the products of 'systems' and 'processes' then the beauty, savagery and consolations of the natural world- along with the murmurations they give rise to- are entirely dependant on us for their meaning, care, and future. Yet in order to uphold this kind of belief it is necessary to keep in mind that all species of life, and especially human beings, are physiological creatures. My dictionary explains that physiology is the branch of biology concerned with "the internal processes of living organisms as distinct from their structural systems".



Home Sweet Home

A century ago the Irish novelist George Moore suggested that "A man travels the world in search of what he needs and returns home to find it". But as the world at large is transformed into one all-encompassing neighbourhood,the 'homes' to which the world's holiday-makers return from their pursuit of packaged pleasures, have become too similar to the fare they sample abroad to make much difference.

When the effort and rewards of travelling become more arduous than the boxed-in boredoms of domestic life,from which holidays were invented to represent relief, then staying at home in the company of mass-media may prove a tad less tiresome than flying to far away resorts in search of 'what a man needs' in the way of diversions and distractions.



"What is a man" Hamlet mused, "If his chief good and market of his time, Be but to sleep and feed?" " A beast, no more" was his reply. While the Prince's verdict dovetails with our present bovine liking for maximum consumption, some beasts of the world nevertheless display more savvy than is needed to outwit the mechanics of survival. Corvids, for example, know full well how to deal with what Shakerags called "the shipwreck of time" without resorting to the solace of round the clock diversions and distractions manufactured to make time pass. Beasts with even modest brains seem better able to "meet the time as it seeks us" than our current fears of time are able to muster.



When it comes to keeping an eye on what neighbours are up to, country dwellers are at a disadvantage. The more remote one is from other people the more difficult it is to document what - if anything - they are up to. Snooping often comes at the price of being snooped upon, sometimes at the same time. One way to keep in the know is to be watchful, but quite often there is all too little to whet the appetite. And making friends with neighbours is often less rewarding than spying on people without being seen. Watching people who are doing next to nothing or nothing unusual has its own rewards.

Our most revealing neighbours hereabouts are birds hooked on the titbits we regularly leave out in the hope that their antics will feed our snooping. But last summer a bold Robin who was busy snooping at us from his perch on my kneecap, was suddenly swooped away in the claws of a Sparrow-Hawk.



One way of making-up our minds is to rely on distinctions between one thing and another. Even so, distinctions are regularly used to vindicate ends we already favour.

In the case of 'Nature' a distinction is frequently drawn between 'Nature Reserves', whose prime purpose is to safeguard wild life from our predations, and 'Amenity Facilities' that provide outdoor recreation in and close-by urban areas. This demarcation is, however, undermined by the economic reliance of 'Nature Reserves' on public tastes and government funding. The consequence of trying to please the likes and pockets of mostly urban visitors is that 'safe-havens' for animals, birds, insects, fungi, fish and woodlands are of only secondary importance. 'Nature Reserves' are thus seldom reserved for wild life, while 'Amenity Projects' provide a manicured spectacle of the 'countryside'.

Perhaps the most secure 'Nature Reserves' belong to those fortunate or canny enough to own large areas of land to keep  to themselves.



'Nature' is no exception to the endless spew of human baby-talk. In step with the breathless flow of on-line chatter adopted by print-media and television to keep them in business, references to the natural world have similarly adopted the foreshortened idioms of on-demand entertainment. Refusal to go along with the times is thought to risk condemning Nature to public indifference.

This turn of events is misguided because Nature is fated to be at odds with the fabricated excitement of present-day amusements. Their central purpose is not to revel in the fruits of time but to render us oblivious to its passage.

There is nevertheless no more reason to treat adults as constitutionally infantile, than there is to suppose that the natural gifts of infants can-let alone 'should'- be satisfied with tsunami's of sounds, images and 'information'. Because children have minds and other faculties of their own, telling them time and time again that Nature is 'incredible', 'fantastic' and 'unbelievably' 'out of this world', is better fitted to bore them witless.



Unlike other species we ponder as well as practice the business of being alive. But no sooner have we learned to take existence in our stride than it becomes necessary to change step in order to fathom - or obscure - what to make of its absence. For recognition that 'human nature' is here today and gone tomorrow, fails to tell us what to expect as we become dead to ourselves and others and superfluous to the world at large.

Because the rest of 'mother nature' lives unaware of the scandalous terms of existence, dumb creatures are thereby spared the habit of rabbiting-on about life as the plaything of death.



Although there is plenty to look-out for in the valley, the beguiling business of Nature can hardly be expected to satisfy all our desires all the time. Chekov found consolation as well as joy in the Russian countryside, but also held fast to the belief that "A reasoned life without a definite outlook is not a life, but a burden and a horror." In the absence of meaning we cling to worthless yet time-consuming diversions and distractions. Yet a spiders web requires no verbal fanfare. According to Keats,"heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter."



Before we moved here the valley was a long abandoned tip. We soon set-about making changes; fencing off land into fields for sheep to graze, planting innumerable trees, sculpting out a pond and making the farmhouse habitable. Like sleepwalkers our time here is nevertheless marked by no master-plan. It now seems that the busier we are making-up things on the hoof, the less we want to fabricate a finished article. When we cease to ditch and delve, the valley will - or so we hope - be left to nature's talent to keep all of us guessing.