Doesn’t the commonplace hold its own secrets?

Tree surgeons and reed-cutters are making room for new growth, opening up the landscape. The birds, flushed out of their hiding places, are everywhere. Pheasants flap and squall in the brush at the end of the field. In the garden a pair of magpies are madly nest-building. In the woods, green shoots are growing through blankets of dead leaves and brittle bracken. The hedges along the road are flowering and S. says she spotted her first bumblebee yesterday. By the river we see a blue tit hacking open a bulrush and spitting downy wisps to all sides. What’s it after, we wonder: nest bedding? seeds? insects? We move close but it’s too busy to care about us. Today I feel no need to leave this place. Spring is here in the nearest things, in the smell of the grass and weeds and air, as the Earth lavishly renews itself.

In everything well-known something worthy of thought still lurks, wrote Heidegger. Something can take hold. There are crocuses among the empty lager cans and crisp packets on the patch of grass beside the Co-op. There are primroses under the bare fig tree in the cemetery.

Writing about conservation, the Norfolk-based naturalist Mark Cocker says it’s the commonplace that should be protected, not the rare:

Our inherent orientation towards the rare has often distorted the way in which we look at the environment. How often one finds conservation policies built around a few charismatic species, such as the tiger, polar bear or, more parochially, the Eurasian bittern or corncrake. Singling out the flagship animal is often a way of simplifying a project for public consumption… when what truly makes an ecosystem flourish is the very opposite of its flagship representative: the sheer bio-luxuriance of its commonest constituents.

Moreover, he says, a preoccupation with the exceptional is almost hardwired into the human imagination. As with flagship nature programmes, it’s increasingly difficult to escape the lure of the exceptional and marketable over what’s right in front of us. The familiar is harder to appreciate.

I move between the bedroom and bathroom, the study and living room, the cottage and the Co-op, day in, day out. I grow too used to the world again. I make it too familiar, let the moment veil itself in the everyday. I become a burden to myself.

Sometimes the nearest things are the hardest to see. We see them too often to see them fresh, and understandably seek to escape them when they seem to have lost all mystery, all presence. Too much home and home becomes opaque, flat. I’m a body walking through the same rooms and fields and shops. No mountain peaks on this plain, no vantage point. The same, the same. The impulse is to look for a quick escape into the new and exciting, or a slow escape into resignation and resentment.

But doesn’t the commonplace hold its own secrets? Perhaps only our impatience obscures them. If we had the endurance of animals we might be better able to accept the familiar and simply wait, day after undistinguished day, until the day, unmasked, surrendered.

Doesn’t being lurk most mysteriously—nearest and furthest—among the things we move around every day, in the fact of their being here at all? Now on my walks I sometimes stop and look at one thing for as long as I can, a squirrel, say, or a flowering bush, until I see its strangeness again, the essential strangeness of its being, to which I’m somehow linked.

The Moment

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