What better place to be on a crisp, Autumn day than wandering through the reddish palette of the New Forest with good friends, who also happen to be fellow wildlife geeks. The good thing about going for a walk with members of my ecologist tribe is that there is no stigma in bending over to inspect creepy crawlies at close quarters, and it feels completely natural to wait by a tranquil, green pool in the October sunshine for twenty minutes watching Southern Hawker dragonflies mate on the wing, egg-lay and aggressively chase each other, hearing the buzzing clash of their wings colliding mid-flight (dragonflies are very territorial).
This is a wonderful time to be out and about on a wildlife foraging mission. Just as summer’s floral beauties have all but faded, their misfit cousins, the fungi, start to peek shyly from the undergrowth and cluster awkwardly into hidden tree crevices. The scarlet Fly Agaric bravely flies the flag for this army of oddities, reminding us that, behind apparent drabness, lie hidden depths of ingenious adaptation and a more subtle form of beauty; the kind that has to be scrutinised to be appreciated, and is thus ultimately more enduring.
For example, we came across an oak tree that had recently toppled to the ground, the severed cross-section of its mighty trunk revealing deep-seated rot, poor thing. All along its prone length, its bark was studded with clusters of immensely squidgeable velvety, dark-brown bobbles. They looked to me like sea urchins, although my friends plumped for chocolate truffles with a gooey ganache centre. We looked them up when we got back (another inevitable aspect of going for a walk with ecologists is the subsequent poring over reference books on the return) and they turned out to be a fungi called Bulgaria inquinans or Black Bulgar.
Black Bulgar – it looked temptingly edible, as if it would be chewy like a chocolately wine-gum.
Peepo! The loud and proud Fly Agaric – putting the ‘fun’ into fungi…
We also saw lots of dor beetles (Geotrupes stercorarius) on the ground, who possess the endearing habit of burrowing deep into the comforting warmth of a steaming pile of manure to make their home. Lovely.
So, this weekend has been one of simple pleasures. A timely reminder for me to step back from my worries and just fully absorb and enjoy the moment, and appreciate all the good things in my life – good friends, good food, fine wine, nature’s wonders.
Simple New Forest pleasures – rainbow over the water at Bucklers Hard and imposing beech tree in Denny Wood.
The weekend also reminded me to laugh about life; not to take it too seriously. I confess that I’ve been a little bit blue of late and have perhaps de-prioritised the importance of laughter and fun in my life, tut tut. But, on Saturday night, I remembered to laugh again. I went out for dinner with a group of friends and it was a brilliant evening – the kind that makes your cheeks ache. At the end of the meal we were given a plate of fortune cookies and took it in turns to read out our message. Mine just so happened to be the following gem:
‘The loneliest of hearts is the one without love.’ Gee, thanks Fortune.
There was a miniscule awkward silence around the table, which was, fortunately, broken by me bursting into laughter. There is the faintest of lines between hilarity and tragedy, and I remembered at that point how much better life is if you see the funny side. So, I’ve remembered that if life seems a bit shitty sometimes, best treat it like a prank that some spoddy omniscient scientist is playing, amusing him or herself by watching humanity flail around in its petri-dish like confused, writhing bacteria.
And this morning, whilst doing my yoga in the study of my hosts’ house, I noticed that the painting on the wall in front of me consisted of a cluster of words such as ‘ha ha, hee hee, ho ho’ etc. And at the bottom of the painting was the caption, ‘Laughter is the best medicine‘. I smiled to myself at the appropriateness of reading that message at that particular point in time. Evidence indeed that life has a sense of humour… 🙂