Dr Julie Carter



I woke this morning to the sound of gusting wind and lashing rain, to the sensation of aching ankles especially the left one, and a satisfied weariness after yesterday’s twenty-mile trot over the Borrowdale fells. It being Sunday, a day when sloth can creep in a little less guilt laden, I stayed in bed for a while enjoying the feeling of clean linen, the smell of fresh air through the open window and the sound of chirping birds, who continued singing despite the storm. I wondered how they manage in the wind. Perhaps they are like us humans, recently confined to essential journeys only. Locked down for survival - no flying with friends just for the freedom and the feeling. My well used body needs its breakfast, so I am spurred to get up.

The educator Ken Robinson talks beautifully about the relationship we develop with our bodies and how as we grow up, we become more disembodied. Concentrating on the intellect, or the brain, and even then, mostly one side of it, our kinaesthetic, blood-filled being is denied expression until we begin to feel that our bodies are a mere utility. Ken parodies University Professors experiencing their bodies as “a mode of transport for the head. A way of getting their heads to meetings”.

The other day when it was warm and calm, I kayaked out to an island on Derwentwater, and we sat in sunshine on the warm rock of St Herbert’s shore under a mass of quaking aspens. My friend explained that aspens are not really individual trees but that they spread by suckers under the ground and all the trees in a stand are probably clones or even parts of the one same organism. I gazed at the mesmerising dance of their million leaves choreographed by the breeze; surely there must be some sensation in their connected experience, even though the nature of such a thing must abide in a place outside a neurone infested brain.

I have heard some psychologists assert humans are the only species that has enough insight and imagination to understand mortality yet I cannot see anything which tells me this is true. Just that we humans seem less comfortable with the passage of our time compared with many other creatures. And our habit of otherising nature and wildlife is perhaps a protection against our fear that we too are really alive, and that life is a cycle in which individuals are temporary.Derwentwater 4

Yesterday’s run was not a use of my body but an expression of myself. Today is not a day to rest my tired legs; they are not my legs they are me. Today is a day to enjoy my tiredness, and wallow in my existence - like a hippo in the mud.

I come back again and again to Mary Oliver’s The Summer Day, in which she asked me, yes me personally, what it is I plan to do with this one “wild and precious life”. A couple of weeks after she died in January 2019, I supplied her with my answer:


For Mary Oliver, born 10th September 1935 and died 17th January 2019.

You were speaking to me weren’t you

  Mary Oliver?

Asking what it is I plan to do

  with this one wild and precious life.

It’s time you had an answer.

After all your diligent patience.

After all the times you did not fail

  to tell me how to fly.

This is what I plan to do,

  to take another breath

  and speak of unkept secrets

  hidden in plain sight,

  to swear an oath to the pink

  blushes of fading winter light.

I plan to speak the wildness

  to give it form and words

I plan to drink the raindrops

  to hear the unheard.

I plan to stare on mountaintops

  climb high and face the sun,

  to burst with life, to scream out loud

  to run and run and run.

I plan to know and tell it all

  the wildest of the wild

  and bear the gorgeous visions

  then go out with the tide.

The soft lipped kiss of death’s farewell

  a silence full and rich.

You knew it always was like this

  to wildness we’re enthralled.

To live in any other way

  would be no life at all.