It was raining (again) so yesterday I visited a Garden Centre. Those out of town places where people of a certain age can wander at ease around trestle tables laden with cacti, gnomes and bedding plants.
Not very exciting its true, but sometimes there is a certain timeless charm to be found among the terracotta pots and alabaster buddhas.
In recent years Garden Centres have expanded their repertoire. Now you can see and buy anything from books about Hinduism to miniature bottles of whisky and bedroom slippers. And there is, of course, always a cafe to revive those who might be flagging, being as we are of a certain age.
The rows of plants appear in the best of health, vibrant, green and flourishing. The genetically modified flowering varieties laden with blooms the colours of which you would usually only expect to see in a painter's pallet, and all this technicolor wonder helps us imagine how we too could turn our little plot into a veritable Chelsea flower show - if that should be our bag.
This particular Garden Centre has an 'add-on' about which I don't feel quite so charmed. They keep animals and they have them for sale.
We often see snakes, spiders and terrapins in terrariums, and even though it doesn't feel right, I can square with it to a degree. The snakes spend hours in stillness, waiting and digesting. They are like great thinkers or hermits, spending their days in solitary contemplation, so it doesn't seem so bad to see them confined. Perhaps in their natural state they wouldn't travel far...
I have an uneasy relationship with snakes. I often dream of them... Why, just the other day I had a very intense snake dream and the picture above I painted the following morning. The cobra had climbed up my back and sat on my shoulder weaving back and forth as it watched the other people in my dream. The green snake did the same shortly afterwards, together with many others - so many I was weighed down with them. Those who are far wiser than me, suggest this dream is representational of transformation and the rising of kundalini energy. I would not argue with them.
But birds kept in cages... well, that is something else again.
When I was child my parents kept budgies. I loved them. I loved their voices and their personalities, of which I was more connected than might seem possible. I knew them. I loved their feathers and pastel colours and the way they felt sitting on my finger, and the sound of their wings, and everything about them. I really, really loved them. They laid eggs and hatched babies and we had lots of little green ones. Like plants left to their own devices they reverted to their natural colour, and they captivated me.
We had an aviary for them in the garden. It seemed so big to my childish eyes. I would go inside and clean them out, fill their water bottles and hang up the cuttlefish and millet seed. They fluttered around me and I was in my element. One day, when we were on holiday and someone else was caring for them, they got out.
Every one of them escaped and when we got home I was devastated. I searched the trees for them for weeks, hoping to catch sight of them, but they had all gone.
Now, with understanding, I know this was at it should be. It was their chance to know freedom. They had a chance to fly. It's what birds are supposed to do. They are not meant to be encased in wire, separated from their element - what torture that must have been. Now I am happy they didn't die in prison. Now I'm glad they flew.
Yesterday in the garden centre I watched the love birds and budgies fluttering from perch to perch in their tiny cages and I felt caged myself. I couldn't stay, I had to walk away. I felt suffocated. These beautiful little birds have no chance to feel the wind under their wings. They are trapped and it's not right.
We have so much more consciousness and understanding now. We can no longer plead ignorance about the animals in our care. We KNOW.
What creature doesn't want to be free?