Nature's greatest gifts are simple . . .

The hillside above the cottage where we were staying
Susanna and I have just come back after a week of leave down in Devon on the edge of the Exe Valley. I only took with me the Penguin edition of Epicurus' works, Lucretius' De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) translated by David R. Slavitt and Jefferson's "Bible".

I hope to take a sabbatical next year in order, finally, to get round to writing something more extensive on what a practical, modern religious naturalism might look like that centres on Epicurus, Lucretius and the human (i.e. non-supernaturalist) Jesus that so inspired Thomas Jefferson. I made a good start on this during my time away. I won't put any of that before you here and just offer you a couple of passages from Lucretius that I read to Susanna while we were out walking together along with a few appropriate photos taken at the time.

Nature's greatest gifts are simple. She does not care
for fancy decorations, gilded torchères in the shape
of human arms that light long corridors that lead
to grand salons where nightly revels take place. She does not
delight in elaborate gewgaws, garnitures of silver
and gold, or paneled crossbeams overhead that resound
from the plucked strings of the lyre. She has no need to improve
on the simple pleasures of friends stretched out on a grassy knoll
beneath the arching branches of living trees near water
purling in some brook. What riches can equal that?
Let it be spring when the weather is perfect and flowers bloom,
Punctuating the meadow with various colours.
(Book 2, trans. Slavitt, p. 49)

My wife and best friend, Susanna, on a grassy knoll beneath
the arching branches of living trees at Cadbury Castle
And here is one of the earliest texts which accords animals real awareness and feelings and which begins to help us see our real kinship with them. This passage is, of course, also part of Lucretius' (and Epicurus') challenge to any form of supernaturalist religion.

Look at any of these with care, and you will discover 
subtle differences in shape or size or appearance. 
How else could a newborn know its mother? Or how could the mother 
distinguish her own offspring? But we see that they can do this, 
and they know one another as clearly as men do. Think of a shrine 
where a calf has been slain on the altar, the smells of gore and incense 
mixing together. The mother, bereaved, wanders the meadow 
searching the greensward for any trace of the cloven hoof 
of her dear calf. She surveys, looking everywhere for the lost 
creature and fills the air with grievous lowing and wailing, 
and again and again she returns to the stall, each time with hopes 
that are always disappointed. And the tenderest willow branches 
she spurns, and the freshest fodder, grass still wet with the dewdrops. 
Nothing can divert or delight her troubled mind 
or lighten her burden of woe. The sight of the other happy 
calves in the pasture cannot lessen her grief as she mourns 
her own, her only child that she knows so well and seeks 
without respite. 

(Book 2 trans. Slavitt, p. 62)

New-born calves with their mothers near Brampford Speke 
And just a few more photos . . .





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