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Open Features: Sojourn In The Sun

"How many lessons the weaver birds could teach some of us?'' writes Mary Pilfold-Allan, having observed the bright yellow nest-builders during a recent sojourn in the southern sun.

Sojourn in the sun

Sitting in the sun in the southern hemisphere recently reduced me to a soporific state, but then it was a holiday and I told myself, relax, just let it happen. Despite this philosophical attitude, one afternoon my attention was riveted by the weaver birds (Ploceus Spinolotus) that had taken a shine to a group of tall palm trees close by and created a thriving colony amongst the palms gently swaying branches.

There is something wonderful indefatigably about the weavers, although their industrious behaviour could, if you were so inclined, be described as foolish. From dawn to dusk these bright yellow birds with their distinctive black beaks spend their time constructing or repairing conical nests that hang by threads from the tip of flimsy branches. This precarious position safeguards the nests and their eventual contents, from predatory snakes or vermin. It also means that the nests are at the mercy of gusting winds but the birds do not seem to take this into the equation. Safety comes first and if a nest falls down, the weaver simply starts again.

How many lessons the weaver birds could teach some of us? The most obvious one ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’ is already in our mental library from circa the 18th century. The other desirable lessons surely include living in relative harmony with neighbours, for although noisy, the birds do not appear to be aggressive towards one another, and, perhaps I was looking at the weaver colony with a sentimental eye, but coveting they neighbour’s nest also seemed taboo.

Applying this latter quality to our own species would mean no more theft of squatting. I doubt whether human nature being what it is, theft as such will ever be eradicated but following the recent tightening of the law in the UK, a person’s right to evict squatters from his or her own property should now be easier without the huge expense and inconvenience, not to mention lengthy process, of going through the courts.

Whilst there is a case for natural justice if a property is abandoned, and certainly a great deal of sympathy for anyone who is homeless and has to walk past rows of empty houses awaiting a speculative price rise or redevelopment, it is hard for home-owners to return after a temporary absence and find uninvited guests in residence.

Just such an incident happened some years ago when I was living in Cambridge. Young people, who enjoyed guitar music late into the night, grew their own vegetables and kept a pet goat as a lawnmower, occupied the house opposite. Knowing no better, neighbours, including me, assumed they were renting the property. Then one day when they had all gone out, four men arrived and cleared the house of all possessions, piling up the flotsam and jetsam of personal possessions in the front garden. The action was short, sharp and for us onlookers, a shock. Finally the men changed the locks and departed whence they had come. When the young folk returned in the evening they took it well, loaded up a van with all their belongings and drove off into the sunset, leaving the goat behind.

Now the goat was not altogether desirable. It had an uncertain temperament, gave no milk and ate anything it could reach, especially the packed lunches, satchels and shoe bags of passing school children that stopped to give it a pat. After three days, with no sign of being claimed, the RSPCA were called in and ‘evicted’ the said goat to a good home in the country.

There is no moral or point to this piece other than to say that sitting in the sun in the southern hemisphere so idles (or perhaps that should be addles) the brain that it drifts off at strange tangents. As for the weaver birds, in the time it took to jot down these few words, one nest fell off its branch and another that had been started the day before, was completed.

I was so overcome by this display of patience and stoicism that it took a gin and tonic to recover.

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To read more of Mary's varied and invariably entertaining articles please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=mary+pilfold-allan

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