One of the most different things about our current life is just how much we really are more ‘in touch with nature’. It sounds like a cliché…. “Well, we want to move to the countryside, and be… you know… more in touch with nature.” But it is glaringly and undeniably true. Of course, when we lived in the city, and spent our nine-to-fives within the fluorescent-lit sheltered confines of offices, and the hours outside of that in centrally heated houses, or air-conditioned cars, or climate-controlled retail establishments, we noticed nature when it got a bit extreme – like when there was a heatwave, or a gale, or even – on very rare occasions – heavy snow. But mostly the weather was just something we talked about in passing conversations with strangers in supermarket queues. And the impact of the changing seasons was only really noticeable in the size of our gas bill, and the days when we found ourselves getting up in the dark and returning home in the rush hour with our headlights on.
The way with live now Nature is pretty much in our faces all the time. We can’t help but notice it, day in, day out. The change in the length of day is always immediately obvious to us on a daily basis because of the chickens. We notice the days getting shorter long before any notion of an earlier lighting-up time becomes apparent, because the chickens go to bed within five minutes of the sun setting. And since we go and shut their house door as soon as they do, to better protect them from the marauding attentions of twilight foxes, we are always aware of what time the sun sets.
Likewise, the animals all wake up around the time the sun peeps its sleepy head out from its bedtime horizon. It makes no difference to them whether it is 5.00am in the summer, or 8.00am in the winter. It is light and so it is breakfast time. And actually, because the dog-puppies’ waking hour has until recently been dictated by their bladder capacity rather than anything more poetic, we have tended to be up and about ourselves even before the sun. So we are fully aware, every day of the year, exactly what time the sun rises and sets. And because of my inability to get over my childish enthusiasm for taking photos of the glorious dawnings and duskings, I even know, within the whole wide vista of countryside, along the line where trees and fields but up against the sky, exactly where the sun will emerge and subside. And because we have to think about where to plant vegetables, or how to build animal shelters to provide shade from the midday summer sun, or for protection from prevailing winds, we know the sun’s precise route across the sky at different times of the year, and we know where from whence cometh the (rare) wind.
And the weather is no longer just a topic of conversation or an occasional inconvenience. It determines how we spend our days. When the weather is hot and dry, we make wallows for the pigs, and water the vegetables. When the weather is windy, we nail down rattling roofs, and repair fences broken by fallen trees. When the rain rains and rains and the land fills up with water, we dig trenches and unblock land drains to keep the flow flowing and not flooding, and we slip and slide through our daily chores in squelchy, glorious mud. And when the temperatures plummet into the nether world of the minus-somethings, we rejoice in the firmness of the ground, scream at the oddly burning pain of damp skin stuck to metal gates, and spend our days breaking ice on water buckets. And when the snow arrives, it is just another variation on days filled with Nature, doing its utmost to make life interesting and challenging, and never-ever-ever something to be taken for cosy, comfortable granted.