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Beach at Port of Ness, © Brian Sweeney

Beach at Port of Ness, © Brian Sweeney

Many years ago, my first lambing season provided a pivotal moment. Suddenly, far from the noise and workplace politics of my previous employment I found myself profoundly happy. The sun was shining, a fresh breeze swept off the moor and I was doing nothing more meaningful than shovelling sheep shit. It was mid-morning and after a busy nightshift in the lambing shed there was no work to do but clean the nursing pens and wait for the next arrivals. And there it was, a brief epiphany, a perfect little glimpse of something simple and sublime, an unwarranted lifting of the soul apropos of nothing of any great shakes. Whatever it was, it was enough to make me rethink my life and its current, at the time, trajectory. I decided I wanted more of whatever that feeling was and, what’s more, to explore the WHY of it too.

In the intervening years it has been come clear that simplicity holds the key…

 I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit. When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run. – Henry D. Thoreau, WALDEN

It seems the less I have, the richer I feel, the less I carry, the lighter my journey. Of course, the world continues in its relentless attempts to be burdensome and the hard part is not just letting go but not letting oneself pick up more of what has been put down. It’s amazing how much is foisted upon us without asking, the expectations of friends, family, employers, strangers, appointed authorities and anyone else who decides they can make demands upon a person. Imagined wants and self-concocted needs abound, hastened by messages insisting you must have this and should attain that. Life is far more satisfactory once you stop chasing it all, dwell less on these man-made intangibles and pay more attention to the things that matter.

I’d never really noticed the seasons, the change in growth and colour over time, how verdant summer is compared to the barrenness of winter months. Or how the cycles relate to wildlife, the bird migrations overhead, matings, nesting and song. The fascination of growing from seed, the smallest of spheres spread in a rich drill of soil becoming so much more in a matter of months, basic biochemistry becoming food, the science still leaving the magic of transformation undimmed. A fertile hen’s egg with just the warmth of a broody mother becomes a perfect chick, hatched and left in her adept care, no need for incubators or technology to bring forth or bring up henceforth. Lambs taking their first steps, the mothering instinct and drive to suckle never fails to amaze. Changes in where the sun rises and sets, constellations, planetary rotations, Aurora and meteors and phases of the moon…

“If the stars should appear but one night every thousand years how man would marvel and adore.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s these things that matter most, life at its simplest but most profound and I’m blessed to have the opportunity to witness it all without distraction. Nature’s machinations and mechanics are, as they always have been, in motion. Always ongoing, we would do well to turn our hand to steering our perception of such wonderous things, within and without us, more gently, employing and enjoying a defter touch, letting the natural world overtake our own self-centered nature more often. Resisting the need to control, allowing the moments to flow without grasping, revelling in enough inaction to quieten the noise of the throng, long enough to hear things with a little more clarity. Often all that is experienced is a moment or two but they’re worthy of the collecting, although the briefest in this the grandest of scales, it’s in these small moments that happiness, of its own accord, seems simply to arrive.