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Alex Douglas-Kane shares her experiences and understanding of Discover Nature Awareness

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Psychometric Test and my Thinking

Early in 1996 I was in the process of leaving the army, and as part of that I attended a trainee management college as a guinea pig for human resource managers. I saw it as a way of getting an idea of what I needed to do to prepare myself for civvie street and I got paid a small amount for the pleasure, so it was a case of adapt, modify and overcome.

On my first day there I was required to complete a psychometric test, I had never even heard of one let a lone know what to do with it, anyway I sat down to answer the questions some of which were based on managing budgets. I had never managed a budget before so I really had no idea what to do, and in terms of maths I am pretty thick, so I decided to change the rules instead of money I inserted people instead for example. I took fifty guys to the gulf came back with fifty, I am in profit.

The following week, when I went back for the next lot of scenarios they had planned for their trainee managers, the lady in charge of that course came up to me and said “Mr McMullan I need you to change five of your answers, because the computer could not profile you” I looked at her and smile with the reply “Sweetheart the army have been trying to profile me for the last twenty two years without success why should you computer be any different”.

I did as she asked, and over the course of the next few weeks the trainee managers became interested in my style of man management and during the breaks they would be asking me about my experiences. Then on one of these days the same lady came to me again and asked me why was I there, I said it was a way of understanding what would be required of me when it came time to look for a job myself. She told me to leave and to never come back.

I guess she was unhappy because I used my initiative and was adapting, modifying and overcoming. I thought at the time, is this not what employers are looking for, people you can think through problems and deal with them by using their initiative?

Ah well it was fun while it lasted.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The Drum Stalk – By Wanting to Help Me, You are not Helping Me.

I was running a Drum Stalk session during one of our courses. There was young girl who was trying to locate her tree but was having difficulty not because she was doing anything wrong, more because she was overwhelmed both physically and energetically.

So many people were stopping her from finding her tree, the camera person (the session was being filmed), her mother who was worried that she might hurt herself because she was blindfolded and the rest of the group gathered around her to help her along as she was the last from the group to complete the game. It is worth remembering that the Drum Stalk is not a race, it is not about who is first in, it is about connecting with yourself through nature.

I had to stop the game which does not happen very often to ask everyone to move away from her as they were affecting her progress by preventing her with their energy from connecting with the trees. I said to her once you are settled and have reconnected with your tree, I would like you to go and find it. When she was ready, she moved off walking with confidence around a bush without touching it she then walked straight up to her tree, to every ones amazement.

I explained to everyone how about their behaviour and concerns had affected the girls outcome, the mother being over protective which is understandable, but she could see that by letting go and trusting that her daughter could do it, her daughter was quite able to negotiate the trees with out any difficulty. Her mother had learnt something about her relationship with her daughter that day.

When things like that are presented I cease the opportunity to illustrate to people how they can affect other people’s outcomes without even speaking and the power of nature and our inter connectedness with it.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

To all my fiends Past, PRESENT and Future even to those who Push all my buttons. Thank you for the gift of who you are.

One day, when I was a freshman in high school, I saw a kid from my class walking home from school. His name was Kyle. It looked like he was carrying all of his books. I thought to myself, 'Why would anyone bring home all his books on a Friday?

He must really be a nerd.'

I had quite a weekend planned (parties and a football game with my friends), so I shrugged my shoulders and went on. As I was walking, I saw a bunch of kids running toward him. They ran at him, knocking all his books out of his arms and tripping him so he landed in the dirt. His glasses went flying, and I saw them land in the grass about ten feet from him.

He looked up and I saw this terrible sadness in his eyes my heart went out to him. So, I jogged over to him as he crawled around looking for his glasses, and I saw a tear in his eye. As I handed him his glasses, I said, 'Those guys are jerks.' They really should get lives.

He looked at me and said, 'Hey thanks!' There was a big smile on his face. It was one of those smiles that showed real gratitude. I helped him pick up his books, and asked him where he lived. As it turned out, he lived near me, so I asked him why I had never seen him before. He said he had gone to private school before now.

I would have never hung out with a private school kid before. We talked all the way home, and I carried some of his books. He turned out to be a pretty cool kid. I asked him if he wanted to play a little football with my friends.

He said yes.

We hung out all weekend and the more I got to know Kyle, the more I liked him, and my friends thought the same of him. Monday morning came, and there was Kyle with the huge stack of books again. I stopped him and said, 'Boy, you are gonna really build some serious muscles with this pile of books everyday! He just laughed and handed me half the books.

Over the next four years, Kyle and I became best friends. When we were seniors we began to think about college. Kyle decided on Georgetown and I was going to Duke. I knew that we would always be friends, that the miles would never be a problem.

He was going to be a doctor and I was going for business on a football scholarship. Kyle was valedictorian of our class. I teased him all the time about being a nerd. He had to prepare a speech for graduation. I was so glad it wasn't me having to get up there and speak.

Graduation day, I saw Kyle. He looked great. He was one of those guys that really found him self during high school. He filled out and actually looked good in glasses. He had more dates than I had and all the girls loved him. Boy, sometimes I was jealous!

Today was one of those days.

I could see that he was nervous about his speech. So, I smacked him on the back and said, 'Hey, big guy, you'll be great!' He looked at me with one of those looks (the really grateful one) and smiled.

'Thanks,' he said. As he started his speech, he cleared his throat, and began.

'Graduation is a time to thank those who helped you make it through those tough years. Your parents, your teachers, your siblings, maybe a coach but mostly your friends.

I am here to tell all of you, that being a friend to someone is the best gift you can give them. I am going to tell you a story.' I just looked at my friend with disbelief as he told the first day we met.

He had planned to kill himself over the weekend.

He talked of how he had cleaned out his locker so his Mom wouldn't have to do it later and was carrying his stuff home. He looked hard at me and gave me a little smile.

'Thankfully, I was saved. My friend saved me from doing the unspeakable'

I heard the gasp go through the crowd as this handsome, popular boy told us all about his weakest moment. I saw his Mom and dad looking at me and smiling that same grateful smile. Not until that moment did I realize its depth.

Never underestimate the power of your actions. With one small gesture you can change a person's life. For better or for worse God puts us all in each others lives to impact one another in some way.

Look for God in others.

Why not pass this onto your friends by copying and pasting it.

I chose to put up here for all to see.

'Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly.' There is no beginning or end. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift.

Tales from the Desert

1) A friend of mine shared a story with me after the war. During the training phase just before going into Iraq he was attached to an American unit. They had just completed a joint operation when he heard an American Officer say. "Gee no wonder you Brits win so many God Dam Wars, you guys practise chaos everyday."

2) Looking out over the gun position one day and surrounded by nothing but flat desert as far as the eye could see. I saw a hazy image in the distance it was getting closer, unsure what it might be I kept a keen eye on it. Then he came into full view like something out of Lawrence of Arabia.

He was alone on his camel he stopped by the nearest gun to him. They shared some words unknown to me, except for perhaps AsSalam-u-Alaikum which means may peace be upon you.

They also shared a cup of tea, and off he went into the distance fading into the haze, no Compass, no GPS and no Map, looking very much at home in his environment.

3) We had to stop because there was a tank battle five kilometres to our front, our chaps were taking care of it, and we went into all round defence. I made a mug of tea and lit a cigarette and I then walked around the guys, giving them a sip of tea and a drag of the fag.

As I came up on our left flank there was a single column of American Abraham tanks waiting for their next set of orders.

I shouted up to one of the tank commanders "would you like a cup of tea mate" he looked down at me with disbelief on his face, and said "there is a tank battle going on over there”. I responded by saying "I know, it’s five K's away and our guys are taking care of it, would you like a drink of tea" he responded with "you limeys are crazy, drinking tea in the desert" I answered him by saying "I will take that as a no then" and returned to my vehicle.

I now have this image in my mind. This guy is now back in the states, his grandson is sat on his knee asking him "what did you do in the war grandpa" and he answers "well son, I met some crazy limeys drinking tea in the middle of the desert during a tank battle".

Which was five K's away and our boys had taken care of it.

I heard a story, that one of the American units had T-shirts made with the following printed on the front, 2nd Armoured Cavalry Regiment – Second to None.

A small unit of British Royal Engineers attached to them had their own T-shirts made up, which read. NONE (think about it).

We were receiving a briefing from American and British commanders one day, and they had decided instead of using a map, that they would use the desert floor instead, with various objects from the ration boxes to represent the different units and objectives to explain the plan of action.

So, a tin of sausages became 3 RRF (Royal Regiment of Fusiliers) and a tin of corned beef was 127 (Dragon) Battery and so on, they used just about everything from the ration box they could to illustrate their point.

Then came that magic moment. You know the one, right time, right place, you had to be there to believe it. Well believe me when I say to you it was all we could do to maintain some sense of order.

Dick Gardner our survey Sergeant turned and whispered to us behind him, we need to watch out for the BRG.

Someone said what’s that then? Dick replied the “Bean Reinforcement Group.”

I nearly wet myself.

The Warrior of the Light

The Warrior of the Light behaves like a child.

People are shocked; they have forgotten that a child needs to have fun and to play, to be slightly irreverent and to ask awkward, childish questions, to talk nonsense that not even he believes in.

And they say, horrified: "So this is the spiritual path, is it? He's immature!"

The Warrior feels proud of such comments. And he remains in touch with God through his innocence and his joy, without ever losing sight of his mission.

Paulo Coelho

Friday, 22 January 2010

Nature Awareness - Plant Meditation.

I thought that I would share with you the experiences of two people who were attending a rehab centre and who had taken part I a Nature Awareness session. Both had an experience with an individual leaf from the same dandelion, during a Plant Meditation. This is their account of that experience and how they related it to their addiction.

(Names & Dates have been changed to protect confidentiality)

*** *** ***

Mary (Government Official)

At 14:00 hours on Thursday 20th March 2008 together with the group of about 18-20 people I joined in a plant meditation exercise with Geoff. We all sat round in a semi-circle and he explained the object of the exercise to us. We were asked to sit with our eyes close3d and both hands held out open in front of us, he would then make his way round to each person and place a part of a plant, any variety in each persons hand.

I recall to my left was Wendy and Leslie was sat on my right. He explained that when we felt the plant/leaf in out hand we were to concentrate and go through a thinking process of what type of plant, can I eat it, is it poisonous, etc. As soon as I felt the leaf in my left hand I felt uncomfortable. I immediately did not feel safe with it and thought it was poisonous. I could hear Geoff saying things like ask the plant questions “are you good for me”? “Can I eat you”? He continued with, “Make the plant grow in front of you, see if you can climb into it, does it make you safe”.

I had negative thoughts about everything he was asking me to do; I can’t emphasis enough how uncomfortable I was holding this plant. After a while he asked everyone to open their eyes and for us to describe our feelings. When it came to my turn, I gave him an account of how unsafe and negative I felt with the plant. Geoff asked me what my addiction was and I explained it was alcohol (pacifically wine). He explained that I was holding a dandelion leaf which could be used in the process of making wine.

This statement had an impact on me but I did not till later how big it would become. I put the leaf in my pocket and the exercise finished about 15:30. Along with the group I made my way back to the main building. I had till 15:45 for my next step group. I was waiting around and a few times glanced at my watch that read 15:10 hours all of the sudden was aware of being alone, everyone had gone. I was approached by David who said the group were waiting in the lounge to do my step and it was 15:50.

My watch still showed 15:10 I was but did my step then had a sudden realisation that I still had the leaf in my pocket and a compulsion to get rid of it. I threw it in a bin I looked at my watch to see if I could get it going but it started immediately and I put it to the current time. It has worked well ever since. I have thought deeply about the above incident and my interpretation is this. By throwing the leaf away I am accepting Steps 2 and believing that a higher power would return me to sanity i.e. believing the leaf to represent a bottle of wine. To me, my watch stopping from when I gained possession of the leaf and starting as soon as I threw it away means that with drink/alcohol I do not have a life but without it I do.

My mum died a year ago. I believe her to be my higher power. I believe she is watching over me and responsible for me having this wonderful spiritual experience. I have never experienced anything like this before and am thankful to Geoff for enabling me to receive this spiritual gift, to carry in my heart always.

*** *** ***

Val (Adolescent)

My Re-birth.

It all started on the 3rd of April. It had started by doing something strange at first. I hugged a tree when I was feeling home sick. I got this warm feeling inside my body. My sadness was up lifted and I had high hopes for my recovery. About a week and half later I was walking a long the front lawn (in rehab) when I came across an egg. This small, fragile blue egg gave me hope. I tried to think from my brain hard why Nature has given me this gift. I could not see why so I shut my head up and used my heart. When I started to do this it came to me. Could this symbolise the re-birth of recovery?? I thought I will keep it warm and explain to the group and Geoff my amazing experience. From that day on I knew I was lucky to know that nature was my higher power.

17th April nature group! I was really looking forward to the group because I always get so much out of it. I was feeling really happy and not taking things very seriously at the start. We all had to close our eyes and Geoff had to put a plant in the palm of our hands. Our task was to ask the plant if it was poisonous or not to us humans. The plant I was given was a dandelion, but I did not know this at the time because I had to have my eyes closed. I got this really heavy feeling in my body, like I needed to help someone. But the plant gave me this feeling that I could eat it. When we were aloud to open our eyes I expressed what had happened but I wasn’t sure who was asking me for help. I only realised after the group had told me that it was myself. This felt quite strange and I was worried because I find it so hard to ask for help.

Later on before I went to sleep, I put my egg, plant and shell that I received from peers on the floor and sat down. I thanked my higher power for helping me see sense. Also what I found out about the dandelion was that it had something to do with the liver and kidneys. This was very strange because in acupuncture the pin that went into the kidney spot on my ear sprung out and flew across the room. The kidney represents emotions, nervousness and trust and he liver pin was throbbing.

After my meditation with my higher power I went to sleep. I was trying to get to sleep there was this force that wanted me to let go. So I decided to wear my hair down the next day. This was quite a big thing because I haven’t worn my hair down in about four months. I had a really positive day and I was really happy as well. Later on after dinner I went into my room because I wanted to do more meditating with my higher power and also to say thank you for my day.

As I got into my room I could not find my egg or plant, it had been thrown away in the bin by the cleaners. I was so devastated and I started crying and I could not control myself. I left my room and walked to the gym. I found a girl and told her what happened. She helped me to calm down, so I went back to my room and went to sleep. All night I was thinking what I should say to the cleaners, so in the morning I went and found the cleaner who clean my room. I told her I was upset and that it was something that meant a lot to me and my recovery. She said she was sorry and that it was all that could be said.

Later on in the morning the girl who I went to see about my egg and plant was in the IT cafe. I said to her that we should go outside and relax before the next group she grabbed yesterday’s paper and went outside. When we sat down she turned to the back page and there was this picture. She explains what it means for her:

I could’t believe my eyes! I will explain what it means. The shape of the egg represents an angel.

The date when you add the numbers up come to nine which means Completion (egg cracking) & Transformation (angel).

1 + 8 = 9 & 2 + 7 = 9 & 9 + 9 = 18 and so on...

Yoke = Surrender (yellow/orange)

Green = Emotion. I am done with crying.

This is my transformation my re-birth.

I was so amazed and felt connected again to my higher power.

The cleaners were the ones who threw my egg and dandelion away. This symbolises the cleaning out of my old behaviour. I feel very lucky because I have this strong connection with my higher power. I get a very warm feeling inside and I feel safe, this is how I know I am in touch with nature.

From my perspective I could see that she saw the crack egg as her leaving her addiction behind if you like and the emerging angel as she sees herself now, in essence a good person.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Crimson-crested Woodpecker vs Olive Whipsnake

This Crimson-crested Woodpecker's mother-love is just no match for the three-metre Olive Whipsnake invading her nest to feed on her eggs.

Time after time she attacked despite its fangs ripping into her.

But she finally had to leave her brood to die - with her own gored body then a target for other predators by Peru's Yarapa River.

Nature Awareness Four Years On....

Recently I have been meeting people that I have worked with in rehab, some I had met at the very beginning of working in rehab some four years ago now. I was interested and pleased to hear them share their experiences of nature awareness and what it meant to them.

They all said that during their time in rehab they all looked forward to going out into nature and connecting with the trees etc, however and more importantly nature awareness was still having an impact on them.

This was good to hear because sometimes I would wonder if it was helping people after they have left rehab, I know that while working with them it was very powerful at that time and I learnt to let go of the outcome as it was not about me.

I now know that it does stay with people and still impacts on their lives, it would be interesting to find out how it is helping them now in their active recovery and in what way?

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

How many times have I done this, I wonder?

The Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing is a model of group development, first proposed b Bruce Tuckman in 1965, who maintained that these phases are all necessary and inevitable in order for the team to grow, to face up to challenges, to tackle problems, to find solutions, to plan work, and to deliver results. This model has become the basis for subsequent models.


In the first stages of team building, the forming of the team takes place. The individual's behaviour is driven by a desire to be accepted by the others, and avoid controversy or conflict. Serious issues and feelings are avoided, and people focus on being busy with routines, such as team organisation, who does what, when to meet, etc. But individuals are also gathering information and impressions - about each other, and about the scope of the task and how to approach it. This is a comfortable stage to be in, but the avoidance of conflict and threat means that not much actually gets done.

The team meets and learns about the opportunity and challenges, and then agrees on goals and begins to tackle the tasks. Team members tend to behave quite independently. They may be motivated but are usually relatively uninformed of the issues and objectives of the team. Team members are usually on their best behavior but very focused on themselves. Mature team members begin to model appropriate behavior even at this early phase. Sharing the knowledge of the concept of "Teams - Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing" is extremely helpful to the team.

Supervisors of the team tend to need to be directive during this phase. The forming stage of any team is important because in this stage the members of the team get to know one another, exchange some personal information, and make new friends. This is also a good opportunity to see how each member of the team works as an individual and how they respond to pressure.


Every group will then enter the storming stage in which different ideas compete for consideration. The team addresses issues such as what problems they are really supposed to solve, how they will function independently and together and what leadership model they will accept. Team members open up to each other and confront each other's ideas and perspectives. In some cases storming can be resolved quickly. In others, the team never leaves this stage. The maturity of some team members usually determines whether the team will ever move out of this stage. Some team members will focus on minutiae to evade real issues.

The storming stage is necessary to the growth of the team. It can be contentious, unpleasant and even painful to members of the team who are averse to conflict. Tolerance of each team member and their differences needs to be emphasized. Without tolerance and patience the team will fail. This phase can become destructive to the team and will lower motivation if allowed to get out of control.

Supervisors of the team during this phase may be more accessible but tend to still need to be directive in their guidance of decision-making and professional behavior. The groups will therefore resolve their differences and group members will be able to participate with one another more comfortably and they won't feel that they are being judged in any way and will therefore share their own opinions and views...


At some point, the team may enter the norming stage. Team members adjust their behavior to each other as they develop work habits that make teamwork seem more natural and fluid. Team members often work through this stage by agreeing on rules, values, professional behavior, shared methods, working tools and even taboos. During this phase, team members begin to trust each other. Motivation increases as the team gets more acquainted with the project.

Teams in this phase may lose their creativity if the norming behaviors become too strong and begin to stifle healthy dissent and the team begins to exhibit groupthink.

Supervisors of the team during this phase tend to be participative more than in the earlier stages. The team members can be expected to take more responsibility for making decisions and for their professional behavior.

As team members get to know each other better, their views of each other begin to change. The team feels a sense of achievement for getting so far, however some members can begin to feel threatened by the amount of responsibility they have been given. They would try to resist the pressure and revert to storming again.


Some teams will reach the performing stage. These high-performing teams are able to function as a unit as they find ways to get the job done smoothly and effectively without inappropriate conflict or the need for external supervision. Team members have become interdependent. By this time they are motivated and knowledgeable. The team members are now competent, autonomous and able to handle the decision-making process without supervision. Dissent is expected and allowed as long as it is channeled through means acceptable to the team.

Supervisors of the team during this phase are almost always participative.

The team will make most of the necessary decisions. Even the most high-performing teams will revert to earlier stages in certain circumstances. Many long-standing teams will go through these cycles many times as they react to changing circumstances. For example, a change in leadership may cause the team to revert to storming as the new people challenge the existing norms and dynamics of the team.

I had to leave him behind in the desert...

During the training phase of Op Granby in Saudi Arabia I was towing one of my JCB's from one gun position to the next. However, the combination of the weight and the soft sand meant that it was difficult to tow, in fact we got bogged down several times.

I decided that I would ground dump the JCB with its driver and return later once I had off loaded some of the weight. Ensuring he had enough supplies for 3-4 days I left with my driver Scott. Jim the JCB driver was experienced and I felt confident that he would be ok.

As night fell I managed to locate our FDC (Fire Direction Centre) which was not easy given that there was so much activity around, in terms of vehicle numbers and that my map was quite simply a sheet of graph paper, so I needed to up date my Northing’s and Easting’s on a regular basis.

I met with one of our armoured vehicles who guided me to the gun position and on arrival I declared to the BSM (Battery Sergeant Major) that I needed to return to collect my bloke at first light. He refused to let me go, which did not best please me and he tasked recovery to go and get him instead. I briefed them on his location and of they set returning at night fall minus one JCB, they said they could not find him.

The next day I attempted to go again and the BSM refused to let me go, tasking another vehicle to find the JCB and they too returned without my driver. By day three I was now getting worried, as Jim’s rations would be getting low although he had more than enough water with him, so I tried again and I was once again I was refused.

It was late afternoon and I had, had enough. I told the BSM I was going and that he could not stop me I needed to get my bloke back, so off I went with the BSM shouting that he will jail me. I thought to myself nice choice, do I go for the roof over my head, three square meals and visitors or the desert being shot at and shouted at by the BSM. Well of course I choose the desert. Anyway, we set off and very soon afterwards a sand storm kicked off.

Scot and I drove for a few miles using graph paper (map) and compass then it became dark, in the desert night fall is like switching the lights off. It was obvious to me that map and compass would not serve me, so I tossed them to the back of the cab and trusted my intuition, ‘mad’ I hear people say, maybe? I guided my driver to where I believed we had left him, we drove along a ridge trying to locate him but could not, so I decided we would bed down until first light and from there we would locate him.

First light came, we drove up to the ridge and there he was, the night before we were no more than 50m from him, even tough we had put our lights on and were sounding our horn he did not see or hear us. I can tell you it was a great relief to find him and I was pleased that Scot my driver had trusted me to get us there.

As we were hooking the JCB up, Jim was telling us what plans he had made to affect his own recovery, we where quite close to some pylon lines which were used as a land mark. He had decided that if no one came that day he would walk to the pylons and wait for a vehicle to pass by. To that end some days earlier he said a land cruiser with British Officers on board had stopped to ask him for directions, which was a joke apart from the pylons lines he had no idea where he was in relation to the battery and they had failed to report his location after he asked them to let people know where he was and that he needed recovery. All I can say to the officers concerned shame on you.

So after three and bit days I was able to return with my guy safe and sound, the BSM was still ranting. I have to say, I just did not care I got what I wanted my bloke safely back.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Shelter Building in Namibia and Dam my Guide

The Nightingales vs the Corncrakes

I was laying on top of my POD (refuelling vehicle) in the early hours of the morning around 2am waiting for the guns to do a rolling replen.

I was listening to the Nightingales they were wall to wall, their songs were just something to behold and then a really rare bird began to call at about 3am. The Corncrakes they were in a field a short distance from my Pod their harsh calls broke into the beautiful songs of the Nightingales.

No matter they were just as beautiful to listen too.

And then the guns came, ah well back to work...

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Escape & Evading & Concentric Rings

Knowing what I know now I can see why I behaved in certain ways during my time in the Army which at that time seemed strange to some of my army buddies. 

I was on a course in Germany and a part of this course involved an escape and evasion exercise. During the early hours of one morning we were moving through a forest, when we came to a Y-junction in the track, you are taught that track junctions are one of the potential areas for an ambush.

We were meant to take the right hand fork to get to our rendezvous point (RV), but something was telling me not go that way but to take the left fork instead. I raised this with the rest of the patrol and during the discussion we had become divided about which way to go. 

This should not have happened, but it is fair to say that we were already becoming fragmented and I was driving the wedge a bit deeper, not because I wanted to but because I was listening to my inner voice and I felt it was right to express myself, if I was to learn from this experience. It was decided that we should take the left fork in the end; we later found out that the next patrol that came through had taken the right hand fork and were subsequently bumped (ambushed).

During this course our patrol ended up being completely split down the middle, there was myself (Royal Artillery) and a Royal Engineer on one side and a Royal Signal Officer and a Light Infantry corporal on the other side. Some might say and indeed they even now might feel that this was a total disaster. I disagree; I saw it as a complete success, because I learnt so much about myself about my strengths and weaknesses and about others. If however it had been deemed a complete success my question is, what would I have learnt from it, perhaps not as much as I did?

We later came into conflict again, it had become apparent to me that we were now moving in circles and that we were being tracked by persons unknown to us, but I can have a really good guess as to who they were, unfortunately for them a blackbird had given them away. I pointed out to the patrol that we were moving circles because the church clock which chimed regularly started out on one side of us and now it was on the other side, plus we were moving through a dense pine forest that was so dark you could not see your hand in front of your face.

I suggested we lay up until dawn which was only a matter of a few hours away, because we do not know what is ahead of us and we could end up in trouble in other words someone could be seriously hurt. After some debate, I forced the situation and we ended up going to ground until dawn. Dawn came and we moved off, it just so happened that not more than 50m to our front was a 20-30m sheer drop onto a hard track. The officer looked back at me, and I at him, I wanted to say I told you so, but that would have been my ego and I resisted the temptation. Instead I was thankful that I trusted my instincts at the time and I was prepared to take stick for it as well, had I got it wrong.

Again it was not about right or wrong for me it was about trusting my inner voice and going with that even at the risk of being ridiculed by the others and it was also about the fact that I wanted to learn as much as I could from this course and not follow the leader I had work hard for nearly two years to get on the course so I wanted to make good use of it in everyway possible, after all is that not way people do this kind of course?

Some great lessons were learnt, which have stayed with me ever since, it was without doubt a very powerful course, the course in question was.

The Battlefield Survival Course @ the International Long Range and Reconnaissance Patrol School

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Man and the Eagle are One

A friend sent this to me and I thought I would share with you. Not many people get a picture of a proud bird snuggled up next to them.

Freedom and Jeff
Freedom and I have been together 10 years this summer. She came in as a baby in 1998 with two broken wings. Her left wing doesn't open all the way even after surgery, it was broken in 4 places . She's my baby.

When Freedom came in she could not stand and both wings were broken. She was emaciated and covered in lice. We made the decision to give her a chance at life, so I took her to the vets office. From then on, I was always around her. We had her in a huge dog carrier with the top off, and it was loaded up with shredded newspaper for her to lay in. I used to sit and talk to her, urging her to live, to fight; and she would lay there looking at me with those big brown eyes. We also had to tube feed her for weeks.

This went on for 4-6 weeks, and by then she still couldn't stand. It got to the point where the decision was made to euthanize her if she couldn't stand in a week. You know you don't want to cross that line between torture and rehab, and it looked like death was winning. 

She was going to be put down that Friday, and I was supposed to come in on that Thursday afternoon. I didn't want to go to the center that Thursday, because I couldn't bear the thought of her being euthanized; but I went anyway, and when I walked in everyone was grinning from ear to ear. I went immediately back to her cage; and there she was, standing on her own, a big beautiful eagle. She was ready to live. I was just about in tears by then. That was a very good day.

We knew she could never fly, so the director asked me to glove train her. I got her used to the glove, and then to jesses, and we started doing education programs for schools in western Washington. We wound up in the newspapers, radio (believe it or not) and some TV. Miracle Pets even did a show about us.

In the spring of 2000, I was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma. I had stage 3, which is not good (one major organ plus everywhere), so I wound up doing 8 months of chemo. Lost the hair - the whole bit. I missed a lot of work. When I felt good enough, I would go to Sarvey and take Freedom out for walks. Freedom would also come to me in my dreams and help me fight the cancer. This happened time and time again.

Fast forward to November 2000, the day after Thanksgiving, I went in for my last checkup. I was told that if the cancer was not all go ne after 8 rounds of chemo, then my last option was a stem cell transplant. Anyway, they did the tests; and I had to come back Monday for the results. I went in Monday, and I was told that all the cancer was gone.

So the first thing I did was get up to Sarvey and take the big girl out for a walk. It was misty and cold. I went to her flight and jessed her up, and we went out front to the top of the hill. I hadn't said a word to Freedom, but somehow she knew. 

She looked at me and wrapped both her wings around me to where I could feel them pressing in on my back (I was engulfed in eagle wings), and she touched my nose with her beak and stared into my eyes, and we just stood there like that for I don't know how long. That was a magic moment. We have been soul mates ever since she came in. This is a very special bird.

On a side note: I have had people who were sick come up to us when we are out, and Freedom has some kind of hold on them. I once had a guy who was terminal come up to us and I let him hold her. His knees just about buckled and he swore he could feel her power coarse through his body. I have so many stories like that.

I never forget the honor I have of being so close to such a magnificent spirit as Freedoms.

Hope you enjoy this.


Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The White Flower of Trinidad.

Some years ago I travelled to Trinidad and Tobago for a birding trip over the Christmas period. One of the places I visited was the Asa Wright Bird Sanctuary which was originally a coffee & coco plantation, and is now, over 2,000 acres of protected land and a true sanctuary for the exotic birds of Trinidad. As I was travelling on a shoe-string I spent only one night at the eco-tourist lodge at a cost of £75 per night, and in order you to see the Oilbird they required you to stay three nights before they would take you to see it.

I found a way around this, as one of the staff members was interested in wilderness-living-skills and he was thinking of doing a Tom Brown course, so I shared some of my skills with him, in exchange for the chance to see the rare Oilbird which I was lucky to get to see the next morning with a group of Americans.

After this I went birding around the sanctuary, when I happened upon a large white bell shaped flower hanging down from a tree, as I approached it I began to wonder what kind of hummingbirds would feed from this flower. 

And just as I went to touch it I got a strong message not to touch it as it was poisonous, at that time I had no idea what the flower was called and nor do I really need to know as giving things names can be a distraction from what is really taking place and also I completely trust my inner voice.

Some time later on my return to the UK, I was at work in a challenging behaviour home where we were watching a programme about buying and selling houses, when I saw the same flower in someone’s garden. I said to the staff there that I had just seen that flower in Trinidad, when one of them turned to me and said you do not want to touch that it is an Angels' Trumpet flower and that all parts of the plant are poisonous.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

What's in a Name?

I remember many years ago I was going through the beginnings of finding my spirituality and questioning where am I going and what I am I doing with my life. When during a one week period I was approached by three men in three different locations on three different days all unknown to each other, and all had asked me the same question.

Had I ever considered becoming a Shaman, my answer to each of them was, I had considered becoming a priest once but that latest all of five seconds and what I knew about shamanism you could write on the back of a postage stamp and still have room for your name and address and another stamp.

However, by the end of the week not only was this question still playing on my mind but the fact that each man was called Ian, now that really bugged me. I wanted to find out what the name meant, so when I was in town one day I decided to pop into Smiths and find a book of names.

I located a book and I looked up the name Ian, it read...

By the Grace of God.

More to come, keep checking back...

  • The White Flower of Trinidad
  • On patrol do I go left or do I go right?
  • I had to leave one of my men behind in the desert of Saudi Arabia
  • Nature Awareness four years later
  • The Nightingales vs. the Corncrakes

Monday, 11 January 2010

The Trees of Five Blues Lake - Belize

Five Blues Lake is so described because of the different shades of blue it gives off; it is located at Mile 32 on the Hummingbird Highway, opposite Over-the-Top bar, about 22 miles from Belmopan.

The park is centred around an intensely blue lake, thought to be around 200 feet deep and sits surrounded by ragged limestone hills, all covered in thick forest consisting of broadleaf trees and freshwater lagoons and it also boast caves, many with spectacular rock formations and Mayan artefacts (not to be touched). The lagoons, caves and general area are still largely unexplored.

While I was living and working in Belize for Raleigh International as their logistics manager I had the opportunity to visit this area during a re-supply run to one of the project sites. It is an amazing place to explore some 200+ birds and 20 species of bats have been recorded there. I went for a walk around the lake and I came upon some of the cave systems, while I did not go too deep into the caves as time was not really on my side I did explore the surrounding area.

I walked through one cave system which broke out into a clearing and what I encountered was just wonderful, I looked up and above my head were a series of overhangs some 50 -70 feet and on top of these overhangs you could clearly see trees growing, so while the rock was a soft limestone it was strong enough to hold these rather large trees, coming out from underneath of the over hangs were the roots from the trees which drove straight down and were firmly rooted into the ground that I was standing on.

Friday, 8 January 2010

What is meant by a Heart Space?

I often get asked this question and I always reply by saying it is about getting someone out of their head and into the their heart, which I believe will always tell us the truth. Sometimes I find it hard to find the words I need to describe the things I want to talk about.

However, the other night while at the showing of the Horse Boy film Rupert said something that brought some clarity to me. He was saying that Shamans throughout the world when asked how does their healing work and why, he said without exception their is one common thread that they all talked about they said, their healing works because it comes from a place of love and that's what they focus on.

Having heard this I cast my mind back to when I have worked with people be it addictions, our disaffected youth etc, and I realised that very often we had become connected with each other in such a way that it can only be described as coming from a place of love.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Birding in the Battlefield cont'd

Here is a short story from Chris Dickey who recently just completed a tour in Afghanistan. He talks about his experiences of birding while serving in a conflict zone. I can certainly identify with some of the reactions he gets from his colleagues. In my case they all took the p@%s before we deployed however as I predicted they all pretty much ended up taking an interest in the birds around us, funny that.

Gunner Chris Dickey

On the 25th September 2008, I left the Royal Citadel Plymouth under the cover of darkness to begin my six month deployment in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Being a member of a six man FST (Fire Support Team) of 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery and being the lowest rank, I went armed with my minimi machine gun with SUSAT weapon sight, 4,000 rounds of link, a lot of water bottles, my digital camera, ’Birds of the Middle East’ and everyone’s spare kit.

My team (C/S Opal 58) was flown out to Musa Qaleh, a large trading town found on the river confluence of the Musa Qaleh and Bagni wadis. Our task was to support the light infantry on all of their patrols; D Coy 5 Scots. Having been briefed by some of the Army Ornithological Society (AOS) members before departure, I embarked on what would be the most primitive and extreme form of birding; birding ‘on the hoof’ around the FLET (Forward Line of Enemy Troops).

My first operation with 5 Scots taking on a Taliban stronghold; ‘Kats‘, saw a number of first’s for me. After being dropped off by Mastiff APV, we then fought for ten straight hours in the blistering heat in confined, house to house fighting. Apart from firing my weapon in anger for the first time, being shot at and blown up by RPGs and seeing my first dead Taliban, I came across a new bird. Unfortunately, the Hoopoe that I spotted flying to the ground from the tree came in a lull of the battle. Being shocked by the proximity of the bird (a few feet away), I let out a ‘Oh my God’, which unfortunately, everyone else mistook as meaning we were about to be out flanked on my side, thus causing a huge uproar!

5 Scots soon ended their tour and my team were integrated with B Coy 2 RGR. The Musa Qaleh wadi is a 300m wide river bed with a braided river running north/south. The wadi acts as a natural path for migratory birds, which did not disappoint. Within Musa Qaleh, Myhnas, Sparrows, Kestrel and Magpie were common place. However, with the winter migration beginning in October, morning sangar duty took on a new light for me. Barn Swallow, Black Headed and Little Gull were a few of the species heading south, while Raven, Saker Falcon, Egrets and Heron were all over-wintering with us. It was during my two hour sanger duties that I was able to have both my binos and spotters’ guide out and primed for action. Whilst on patrol, when I did not know the species I was looking at, I took to either drawing or jotting down distinctive details, which I could then use once back in the FOB (Forward Operating Base) with my guide to hand.

It was at the beginning of November, that I was given my R+R. When I returned, my team was split into pairs and I given the job of joining the 1 Rifles OMLT (Operational Mentor and Liaison Team), who were responsible for training two companies of ANA (Afghan National Army). The job meant moving to a new camp, in the desert region north east of Musa Qaleh. From there, I patrolled every day with the OMLT, usually heading north to the FLET, to see if we could upset someone’s day. It was during this time that I was able to see some more species including Hobby, Chukar, Rock Dove and Long Legged Buzzard.

Our role generally involved interacting with the local inhabitants to gain information but also involved some major operations including some quite bizarre ones, for example; looking for a Russian legacy minefield through the use of advancing whilst in extended line. Being higher up in the desert overlooking the villages, my 10x42 binos came into their own, not only to spot weaponry under Taliban clothing but also to spot the smaller species of birds like the Masked Wagtail and Chaffinch. A memorable incident was when we were trying to find a sniper who had hidden his weapon under his shirt and tried to escape. Whilst looking through the binos for the culprit, a bird flew across my sight and landed in the desert. Being a blip in the desert I was impressed that I found the bird so I said ’aaha’. Unfortunately everyone thought I’d found the shooter and weren’t impressed when I could show them the whereabouts of a Hobby instead.

The winter period lasted from November through to late January during which time frosts were common and heavy rain turned every road, track and path into a thick soup. The desert at this time greened up with grass sprouting out through the soil crust and flowers showing their faces amongst the rocks.

With only a month and a half left of the tour, I moved back into the Green Zone to Patrol Base (PB) Woqab with the Gurkhas. From this small base I continued my patrols around the local area, which included the wheat fields and the Hasi Rashid gardens. By now I had written blogs on the AOS website about species I had positively identified and also given descriptions of ones I couldn’t. Working in the Green Zone around March meant that I saw a few more species including the migratory ones. These included Blackbirds, Mistle Thrush, Eversmann’s Redstart, Common Swift, Barn Swallow, Great White Egret, Kestrel and Saker Falcon. During my time at Woqab, I was involved in some more operations and numerous re-supplies to the wadi. It was during these times, covering the wadi to the north whilst lying in the river bed, that I saw Common Kingfisher and Black Kite, both fishing.

My final operation in Musa Qaleh was to deny the Hasi Rashid Gardens to the Taliban. The gardens were pomegranate orchards with some tall evergreen trees in the middle. Unfortunately the operation turned into a cordon-op after we found six 105mm HE shells wired together in a ‘daisy chain’ bomb. Whilst baking in the sun on the roof of a house covering the north east, two Ring-necked Parakeets flew into the trees, obviously inhabitants of the gardens. Under Taliban rule it was forbidden to keep parrots so could they have been captive birds set free? The cordon-op did however allow me to find the whereabouts and establish the exact numbers in a heronry. Although the explosive shells had been detached, the detonators with some of the explosives needed to be destroyed. As it was dusk when they blew up, I was able to count every heron that took off at Mach 3 when the explosive went off at the base of their trees. I counted fourteen. If that’s not an efficient way of counting heronry numbers, I don’t know what is?!

Once off the ground and back in Bastion where the coffee is strong, the showers are hot and the food is edible, I was able to go for morning runs again. During these periods of cool and general quiet (unless the US marines were scaring off everything with their squads jogging and chanting) I came across Blue-cheeked Bee Eater, Crested Lark and Verreaux’s Eagle.

Although using a SUSAT is a crude form of birding, my experiences of ornithology in Afghanistan have been immensely enjoyable with many memorable encounters, which have helped improve my identification and knowledge of birds in their habitats. I can also safely state that Afghan birding is not for the faint-hearted and will probably be the most extreme form of birding that I will ever do. CAOS trip anyone?!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Yin & Yang

When you walk into a dark room you can see it is dark, when you walk into a room full of light there are no shadows.

If you can see the dark then in there somewhere is the light, just walk towards it, towards who you are.

I thank you for the gift you bring me by being the dark you keep me in the light and I will not let you forget where you come from. We will meet again there one day soon.

Without you I could not know right from wrong, dark from light, you allow me to see the beauty in ugly. The beauty that is me and you.