Recently, Christine Moran, a friend I met at a creative writing group, posted a challenge on my Facebook page. The challenge was to take a photograph of nature every day for seven days. My initial reaction was: do I have time for this? But, eventually, one day I took my iPhone with me when I walked my dog Poppy in the local park.
Normally, I walk round the park while Poppy does her own thing, sniffing and exploring. My thing is usually thinking. Thinking about life in general, some piece of writing I’m working on or some tricky poetry exercise set by James Nash, our course mentor. But, on this particular day, I was on a mission, I was consciously looking for a photo opportunity. It soon came when Poppy flushed out a duck from the edge of the small lake, followed by her ducklings. I watched as the flotilla set sail and took my first photo of the seven day challenge.
I have completed the challenge, but find I now look more intently at nature; the colour and shape of the leaves and flowers, the cathedral like formation of trees, the branches, the tracery of gothic windows, and the constantly changing clouds in the sky above.
Undertaking Christine’s challenge has made me aware that writers, to write well, must, if they have lost it, rediscover the innocent curiosity of children.
Christine Moran has published a poetry collection Dancing in the Rain – bennisonbooks.com The proceeds are donated to the Multiple Sclerosis Trust. To find out more about Christine visit https://journeyintopoetry.wordpress.com
When I became a driving instructor, thinking it would be sensible to learn how to actually teach, I took a diploma course called Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning System. On thing I gleaned from the course was, and it’s pretty obvious anyway, is that people learn better if they see and feel the joy and purpose of a subject.
That is why, to avoid boredom setting in, I take my pupils on occasional fun road trips. One day I took Cherry Cuevas on a drive to the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. In spring sunshine we drove along countryside roads edged with early emerging blossom. Brave birds flew low across our path, burdened with nest construction materials, clutched in their beaks. Lambs played alongside their dozing mothers in the fields we passed.
I stopped the lesson to give Cherry a rest. While admiring the gently rolling countryside we discussed how wonderful the area would be for walking our dogs. How, if she had a car, Cherry could bring her dogs to walk on the wooded Otley Chevin. She showed me pictures of her dogs, two border collies, Shadow and Calypso and told me that in her home country, the Philippines, dogs are not regarded as pets, only as working animals. Cherry, besotted with her dogs has embraced our dog loving culture.
I asked her if she had watched the film ‘Lassie come home’. Her eyes lit up. Yes, she said, she had seen the film and the television series. This is not surprising as the book and films were a worldwide phenomenon. The reason I mentioned the film was that the author of the book, Eric Knight, had lived in the village of Menston half a mile away from where we were parked. I knew exactly where. I had learned this interesting fact from another pupil who’s grandmother lived in the house, Carlrayne, where the author had been born on the 10th April 1897.
What I find surprising is that the recognition of Eric Knight’s life is quite low key in his home town; a plaque, bearing minimal information, on the wall of the the local library. Had my pupil not told me I would never have known he had been born in Menston, despite living there myself for two years. Knight was the youngest of three sons born to Frederic and Marion Knight. His father, a diamond merchant, was killed in the Boer War when Eric was two years old. His mother moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, to work as a governess for the imperial family before settling in America. Apparently, Eric was left in the care of an uncle and aunt in Yorkshire and emigrated to America in 1912 settling in Philadelphia.
Knight served as a signaller in the Canadian Army during WWI, then as a Captain of Field Artillery in the U.S. Army Reserve between the wars. When not in the armed forces he was an art student, a newspaper reporter and a Hollywood screenwriter. In 1943, when a major in the United States Army Special Services, Eric Knight died in an air crash.
Eric Knight published many books. His novel ‘This above all’ is considered one of the significant novels of the Second World War and his novel ‘Lassie Come Home’ set in Yorkshire was made into a film by MGM. Sequels and television series followed making Lassie a worldwide icon.
As I stood with Cherry, looking through the gate at the house where Eric Knight was born, I thought of the incredible story of this extraordinary man and his life. Is this, I wondered, a kind of literary snobbery. Is the author of story of a dog, enjoyed and loved by millions around the world not regarded as worthy of greater recognition.