Yesterday, in the numbing heat, I stood on a bridge that straddled a section of the River Hogsmill, close to Ewell. The water running beneath, not 12 feet wide and but a few inches deep, was choked on either bank by majestic stands of Himalayan Balsam, in full flower. I leant on the rail, looking down onto the tops of the Balsam, which were being visited by bees. Many bees. They busied themselves, as bees do, by climbing inside the elongated throats of the blooms, and after finishing whatever they were doing, backing out before investigating another flower. There were several species before me, some fat, furry, good old-fashioned ‘bumbles’, many narrower bodied Honey Bee types, one with a hoary frosted body, another with a long and pointed abdomen - as to their specific identities, I hadn’t a clue. I didn’t feel the need to know. Watching them for maybe 15 minutes was relaxing. Not trying to photograph them, or net them, or pot them was an additional pleasure. My binoculars and camera remained in my rucksack. It was an altogether different way of observing nature from my usual manic attempt to catalogue everything. The heat and Mediterranean-style relaxation default setting may have been responsible for my indifference, but there is a sea-change coming. I feel it. I know it.
Back and forward the bees continued. Soporific in the hot air, drowsy buzzing, hurrying without panic. Time could wait for me, even if time was of the essence for them in getting their job done. And they had done a job on me too. “Just watch us. Why do you need to know our names?” They had a point.
Why do some of us want to give everything a name? Does it allow us to consider that we ‘own’ the creature once we have catalogued it? A more sedate form of the ‘hunter-gatherer’ relationship? To put them in a box marked ‘done’ and then move on to the next that we need to identify? Similar thoughts have crowded my mind many times. They normal manifest themselves after periods of attempting to tackle new groups or bio-blitz an area. It is as if any attempt to over-reach myself triggers an inner alarm system - “Stop! This is becoming mechanical!” And that inner voice has a point. Increasingly so.
A sea of grass in the breeze. A jewelled beetle walking across a path. Distant flocks of thrushes punching through low autumn cloud. Stygian woodland floors carpeted in moss. Cloud formations that make you stare and try and make out recognisable shapes. A star-splattered night sky that frightens you with awe. All arresting, all memorable and yet the component parts do not have a specific name. In fact the component parts are not thought of as separate entities at all, they merge into the one. Does not knowing the names of the grasses that are dancing in the wind diminish the visual impact? Or what constellations are above us in the night sky? No, not one bit.
All without a name. And not diminished, but enhanced through feeling and emotion.