Following Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s suggestion that we can discover profound truths through concentrating on simple things, I walk up the lane with the compost bucket. But I am not just emptying the compost bucket, my mind is distracted thinking up ‘simple things’ I might do to follow the Master’s advice. I notice that the sides of the path have been turned over by badgers looking for grubs and root, the suddenly I see their tracks in the mud, the hint of a footprint here, another there. Looking carefully, in a deeper patch of mud I find a deep print, with the pad and four toes perfectly clear and just the hint of claw marks.  Ah, something simple has caught my attention!

Opening the orchard gate I am thrilled to see that the mid-day sun is at last getting into the garden. In midwinter it reaches no further than the bottom of the south-facing wall. Today about eight feet of grass is also in the sunshine, and I can sit in the shelter of the walls taking in the warmth.

With the recent rain and the snow, I have not been outside like this for several weeks. This early sunshine and blustery wind are invigorating, even though my fingers are cold and my bottom a bit damp from the wet seat. I sit and listen to the west wind blowing an orchestra of sound through the ash trees. I can distinguish layers of notes: The deep ongoing murmur of the bass continuo; bursts of higher melody from the woodwind as gusts whip through the branches; then every few minutes a squall gathers from the west and roars violently past in a crescendo of brass and percussion.


It is a quietly damp morning. Everything is still. Drops of water, sharp and bright crystalline spheres, hang from the twigs and the capping stones at the top of the walls. Each drop gathers, builds, hangs delicately, then drops directly down.

The two old Bramley’s Seedlings reach skeletal fingers toward the sky, their bark damp, glowing softly dark. Patches of bright green moss cluster along the larger branches. I amble around, looking for signs of growth in the trees we planted last spring, which I have recently pruned back to create a strong framework from fruit. I can see buds on the apple trees, and the sweet cherries seem ready to burst as soon as a little more warmth comes, but the apricot on the east-facing wall still seems to be deeply dormant.

A small brown bird darts between the trees and lands on a thin branch of the crab-apple. It looks this way and that in sharp little movements, then hops round. A robin. It takes off again and flies over to the ivy on the stone wall, flitting from twig to twig as if investigating, then sits on top of the wall for a moment before disappearing.


Today is Imbolc itself, the beginning of the end of winter when traditionally new fires were lit in the hearth. It is a bright and cold winter’s day. Sunrise is now well before 8.00am and the early light flooded the valley with a golden glow. I take my daily walk to the orchard, my attention drawn upward to the brightness, to sharp silhouettes against a radiant sky. From my seat in the orchard I watch the fair weather clouds blow from the northwest, bright white where the sun strikes them but dark-bottomed grey where the light is behind them.

As I potter about the orchard, the sudden mewing of a buzzard draws my attention back to the sky. I can see no sign of the bird, but my searching eyes, long-focussed, notice high in the sky a faint ribbing, a strange corrugation. Above the cumulus hastening on the northwest wind, streaks of cirrus cross their path, blown eastwards by a higher wind. Crossed winds suggest a change of weather on the way.

Suddenly a gaggle of jackdaws flies overhead, six or a dozen of them. They had been sitting peacefully on the roofs and chimneys of the nearby houses, but now they wheel around over the orchard like a bunch of schoolboys chasing a football, calling to each other in their characteristic guttural screech. For a few moments their presence dominates my attention, then they are gone over the rooftops leaving a strange silence behind.


Have I discovered profound truths by attending to simple things? If I have, I could not articulate them. I like the way James Hillman puts it: “…aesthetic response is closer to an animal sense of the world—a nose for the displayed intelligibility of things, their sound, smell, shape, speaking to and through our heart’s reactions, responding to the looks and language, tones and gestures of the things we move among.”


Thich Nhat Hanh in conversation with Jo Confino in the Guardian

Hillman, J. (1992). The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World. Putnam, Connecticut: Spring Publications. P.113-114