You can learn a great deal just by observing nature; and my favourite classroom is the window by the bird feeder. Watching the parade of songbirds, corvids and doves flit and flap their ways across the road then perch, peck and posture in their individual ways is endlessly entrancing – to say nothing of the psychological battles with squirrels who given half a chance would tear the peanut feeder apart and spoil it for everyone else.
Every creature, squirrel, bird or the vole that lives in the border under the feed station, has its own habits and seems equipped with the intelligence needed to make its living. Today I watched a scruffy Coal Tit worry away at a few peanuts, deftly switching from upside-down to sideways on and back, before flitting across to the empty squirrel proof feeder to see what was for dessert. Empty for a few days now – as I’m really not a good avian dinner host – but, it seemed, worth a try. Finding nothing doing it just as quickly flitted off to look elsewhere.
Before trying its luck at the empty feeder, this tiny bird must have known that it was somewhere that food could often be found. It was following a pattern – one that normally served it well. Except this time the pattern was broken and there was no point hanging around in the hope that normal service would be resumed soon. It adapted its plans and followed a new path.
Where do we look for nourishment and what do we do when the usually reliable sources are no longer serving? We can ask the question about food (I’ve not been able to get hold of my usual type of yeast since the shelves were cleared of the last tubs of it in early March) but we can also ask it of the less tangible things that support us in life – culture, learning, closeness to others. And it’s been a pressing question for the past four months for everyone on the planet, as the constraints imposed by the very real threat of disease have put a stop to countless events, social engagements and what used to be normal human interactions.
There have been partial solutions of course – heroes of the hour in the form of voice-over-internet software. Some activities have found a new lease of life online. Communities have pulled together to support the vulnerable. Many people have found the solitude itself enriching. What’s clear is that we’ve all needed to find new ways to meet, share stories, express ourselves creatively. What is less clear is whether our institutions can be as adaptable, and therefore survive.
Today we held our first Meeting for Worship in person for the first time in over four months. Carefully signposted, precautionary information provided, sitting 2m apart, many wearing face-masks, keeping our voices low, not sharing drinks afterwards. It felt simultaneously a longed for rebirth and also something strange and unfamiliar. We can hope that things will relax further in due course but for the time being this is the only way gatherings can take place.
In the coming weeks, adapting our expectations as individuals will make the difference between the survival of the organisations and networks to which we belong, and their demise. It won’t be back to business as usual for a long time to come; but if we’re prepared to look for new ways to nourish ourselves and each other, our communities and culture will live to thrive again.
Now I think there’s a bird feeder that needs topping up…