Natura Naturans

“By far the strongest influence in my life was Nature; it betrayed itself early,  growing in intensity with every year. Bringing comfort, companionship, inspiration, joy, the spell of Nature has remained dominant,  a truly magical spell. Always immense and potent, the years have strengthened it. The early feeling that everything was alive, a dim sense that some kind of consciousness struggled through every form, these moods colored its opening wonder. Nature, at any rate, produced effects in me that only something living could produce.

This tendency showed itself even in childhood. We had left the Manor House, Crayford, and now lived in a delightful house at Shortlands, in those days semi- country.  It was the time of my horrible private schools – I went to four or five – but the holidays afforded opportunities. I was a dreamy boy, frequently in tears about nothing except a vague horror of the practical world, full of wild fancies and imagination and a great believer in ghosts, communings with spirits and dealings with charms and amulets, which latter I invented and consecrated myself by the dozen. This was long before I had read a single book.

I loved to climb out of the windows at night with a ladder, and creep among the shadows of the kitchen garden, past the rose trees and under the fruit-tree wall, and so on to the pond where I could launch the boat and practice my incantations in the very middle among the floating weeds that covered the surface in great yellow-green patches. Trees grew closely round the banks, and even on clear nights the stars could hardly pierce through, and all sorts of beings watched me silently from the shore, crowding among the tree stems, and whispering to themselves about what I was doing.  I cannot say I ever actually believed that my spells would produce any results, but it pleased and thrilled me to think that they might do so ; that the scum of weeds might slowly part to show the face of a water-nixie, or that the forms hovering on the banks might flit across to me and let me see their outline against the stars.

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On returning from these nightly expeditions to the pond, the sight of the old country-house against the sky always excited me strangely. Three cedars of Lebanon flanked it on the side I climbed out, towering aloft with their great funereal branches, and I thought of all the people asleep in their silent rooms, and wondered how they could be so dull and unenterprising, when out here they could see these sweeping branches and hear the wind sighing so beautifully among the needles. These people, it seemed to me at such moments, belonged to a different race. I had nothing in common with them. Night and stars and trees and wind and rain were the things I had to do with and wanted. They were alive and personal, stirring my depths within, full of messages and meanings, whereas my parents and sisters and brother, all indoors and asleep, were mere accidents, and apart from my real life and self. My friend the undergardener always took the ladder away early in the morning.

This childish manifestation of an overpowering passion changed later, in form, of course, but not essentially much in spirit. Forests, mountains, desolate places, especially perhaps open spaces like the prairies or the desert, but even, too, the simple fields, the lanes, and little hills, offered an actual sense of companionship no human intercourse could possibly provide. In times of trouble, as equally in times of joy, it was to Nature I ever turned instinctively. In those moments of deepest feeling when individuals must necessarily be alone, yet stand at the same time in most urgent need of understanding companionship, it was Nature and Nature only that could comfort me. When the cable came, suddenly announcing my father’s death, I ran straight into the woods.  Even in those few, rare times of later life, when I fancied myself in love, this spell would operate – a sound of rain, a certain touch of colour in the sky, the scent of a wood-fire smoke, the lovely cry of wind agains the walls or window.

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Another effect, in troubled later years especially, was noticeable; its dwarfing effect upon the events, whatever they might be, of daily life. So intense, so flooding, was the elation of joy Nature brought, that after such moments even the gravest worldly matters, as well as the people concerned in these, seemed trivial and insignificant. Nature introduced a vaster scale of perspective against which a truer proportion appeared. There lay in the experience some cosmic touch of glory that, by contrast, left all else commonplace and unimportant. The great gods of wind and fire and earth and water swept by on flaming stars, and the ordinary life of the little planet seemed very small, man with his tiny passions and few years of struggle and vain longings, almost futile. One’s own troubles, seen in this new perspective, disappeared, while, at the same time, the heart filled with an immense understanding love and charity towards all the world— which, alas, also soon disappeared.

It is difficult to put into intelligible, convincing words the irresistible character of this Nature-spell that invades heart and brain like a drenching sea, and produces a sense of rapture, of ecstasy, compared to which the highest conceivable worldly joy becomes merely insipid. . . . Heat from this magical source was always more or less present in my mind from a very early age, though, of course, no attempt to analyse or explain it was then possible; but, in bitter years to come, the joy and comfort Nature gave became a real and only solace. When possession was at its full height, the ordinary world, and my particular little troubles with it, fell away like so much dust ; the whole fabric of men and women, commerce and politics, even the destinies of nations, became a passing show of shadows, while the visible and tangible world showed itself as but a temporary and limited representation of a real world elsewhere whose threshold I had for a moment touched. “

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Excerpts from Algernon Blackwood’s Episodes Before Thirty.

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