The ancient Greeks believed that there were four elements that everything was made up of: earth, water, air, and fire. I think they omitted to mention that little boys are made of slugs and snails and puppy-dogs' tails, and that little girls made of are sugar and spice and everything nice. But we won’t hold that against them.
Whilst science has explained that they can no longer be considered as elements I have always felt an affinity with them; considering them to be spiritual friends. Finding comfort and solace in them. And before you ask, no I’m not an arsonist!
Thankfully I no longer have to garden. When I did I all too often found it a chore. But one thing I have always loved is the feel of earth on my hands. It is a feeling that’s quite sensual; be it breaking a lump of dry earth and letting it slowly run through my fingers or kneading a claggy sod of clay-heavy soil. The digging and breaking soil with one’s hands is an activity that is as old as cultivation and which in turn is a key element in human evolution. As a kid I could often be found, arse up with my head down a hole removing handfuls of earth as I dug deeper. I was an avid hole digger and I was thankfully given the freedom to dig in our back garden by my parents. I have an appreciation of good soil.
Sunday saw me on the Norfolk Broads crewing on a Wherry. I love boats. I always have. It stems from my love of water. River, lake or sea, I love a watery environment. The sound of water lapping on a shore or a riverbank is most efficacious indeed. Deserted waterlines can facilitate meditation. I find I can lose myself in such situations. Blend into my surroundings. Sometimes I think how nice it would be to be the only human left. Only nature for company. The feel of water flowing through my fingers is quite sensual. Spume and spray in one’s face can be quite refreshing. Water brings life but can also be a cruel mistress, bringing death and destruction. Water needs much respect. I suppose it’s part of being born and raised in the British Isles as I love looking out to sea. There’s hope, expectation and mystery wrapped up in this activity of gazing into the distance. I dream of being on a desert island, but the dream turns into a nightmare when I try to decide which eight records to choose. Only eight!
I love fresh air, in its rightful place of course. Sea air is especially joyous. Or a gobbing great lungful of country air on an isolated walk. I feel so alive feeling the wind in my face when on a boat or standing on raised ground; a feeling of cobwebs being blown away. Sweet smelling fresh air cleanses and makes one feel good to be alive.
There is something quite primitive about staring into flames. I’ve always enjoyed a log fire or a good bonfire. The warmth and comfort they offer in the cold of winter brings succour to the soul. Watching the flames dance and feeling the heat on my face and hands can be most mesmerising. The striking of a match provides a short burst of instant gratification. Toast made on an open fire always tastes particularly good. It is the taste of childhood and dark winter evenings. The fire was the focal point in the family home, sadly now replaced by the idiot box; the flames providing colour images in the days of black and white telly.
So the ancient Greeks may not have got the science quite right but they knew a thing or two about the human condition and how we bond with their ‘elements’.