The Good in Small Things

Our world, it seems, is descending down a refuse-filled vortex not unlike that after you’ve pulled the plug on dirty dishwater. This can’t be happening … this cannot be true … are disbeliefs expressed in this household and proved otherwise time and again. Shootings, terror attacks, uprisings; lies, racism, nationalist zealotry. From our dusty patch on the outside of everywhere, bathed in midwinter’s hazy straw-colored light, it seems like the camera lens of the global media is focused only in the dark shadows.

In an act of defiance — a belligerent refusal of being caught up in the vortex — I turn my attention to the small things around me. As Alexander McCall Smith, one of southern Africa’s most beloved fiction writers, has said: “It’s through the small things that we develop our moral imagination, so that we can understand the sufferings of others.” To me, it’s also through the small things that we witness the Universe’s moral imagination, which allows us to avert our attention from the roiling cesspit of global discontent and unaccountable world leaders.

The Good in Small Things 9

The Good in Small Things

The Good in Small Things 7

The natural world, when studied and magnified, reminds us over and over that it is an effective antidote to pain, and it’s a necessary distraction from the horror stories unfolding around the world. Zooming in on the small things in nature forces you into the present. Into the now. Last night on our evening walk, Chris and I were absorbed by a column of militant Matabele ants crossing the road in perfect formation. We discussed the size and patterns of three separate snake-crossings in the sand. I photographed dying wild flowers in the dying light, and nearly died laughing filming our boxer-cross, Manny, performing exuberant donuts through the wheat, broken only by an occasional pirouette in the air to locate our Jack Russell hidden in the undergrowth. I never once gave a thought to the chaos unfolding in American and European politics. Nor to Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe. Nor to Islamic terror attacks. I was right here, feeling the layers of cold and warm air set off by the water irrigating the wheat field. I was right here, like the roosting birds and the laboring dung beetles and the setting sun. I was here. I was happy.

The Good in Small Things 3

Photo credit: Dr. Claire Spottiswoode
Photo credit: Dr. Claire Spottiswoode

The Good in Small Things 6

The Good in Small Things 8

The good in small things is in the number of wingbeats of a scarlet-chested sunbird drinking from a muted orange aloe flower right outside my office window. It’s in the pitch and gusto of Manny’s singing voice, unable to resist joining in with Chris while he’s playing his flute. It’s in the productive alchemy of our semi-arid Kalahari sand soil after being mixed with compost, elephant dung and chicken manure. It’s in tasting an alien flavor of a new wild edible. It’s in picking the first ripe peas and shelling and eating them right there in the garden. It’s in the bright, eager eyes of a three-year-old child who’s just learned to count to ten at our farm’s preschool. It’s in the length of an elephant’s eyelashes. It’s in the intimacy of being in love.

The Good in Small Things 4

The Good in Small Things 5

The Good in Small Things 10

The weight and power of small things will always show itself. As I read here on Thought Catalog earlier today, “It is the little things that give everything meaning. It is an accumulation of puzzle pieces to make a spectacular picture, the collection of letters to make words to make sentences to fill pages to complete a story. Ultimately, a thousand little things make something big — and what’s more, small beings united to make something immense often lend a certain grandeur to themselves — all the more for not having done so through any intention.”

Annabel Hughes Aston is a writer and an award-winning chef in Livingstone, Zambia. She is the creator of "bush gourmet" cuisine.


  • Thank you Annabel for your beautiful words, photos and message. It is easy to feel a bit ill over all that is going on around the world; your post was just what the doctor ordered to keep things in perspective. ❤️

    • Thank you for this lovely comment, Courtney. Nature, at least in my own life, has become a non-negotiable imperative. It’s the only way to stay sane!

  • Thank you for giving us this beautiful and poignant glimpse into the little things that surround you there on Livingstone Fruit Farm! It brings back fond memories of being there with you and sharing many of those small pleasures. And it is a welcome reminder to be conscious and appreciative of all the bits of beauty and wonder that make up our days here in Virginia!.

    • So much gratitude for this kind comment, Cynthia. I’m really glad you have been here to know about that which I write. And yes, Virginia is filled with beauty and wonder. I am thankful I’ve experienced that firsthand, too.

  • Truly lovely, Annabelle. Nature and animals (and children too), purify this putrid world.
    Only they can do it…….. The rest of us (but not all) seem intent in destruction.
    Thanks for sharing this with us.
    Celia xx

    • Thank you for your interest, Celia. We live in worrying times, to be sure, but those of us whose eyes are wide open to the little things are offered some reprieve … and hope for our beautiful world.

    • Nature has its own way of showing us that ,what we consider to be of little observation is extremely paramount for our survival.Thanks Savanna..This is just so beautiful and sweet reading I have to admit.

      • Thank you so much for stopping by my blog, Rodgers, and for this kind comment. Nature is indeed a terrific teacher … and yes, paramount to our survival (and mental health)!

  • Truly beautiful and inspirational words Annabel – and your pix are wonderful too. I am feeling particularly homesick at present and, although your post has brought tears to my eyes through its honest simplicity, it has also afforded me a strange comfort in feeling affiliated with your feelings. I am going to subscribe to your blogs because my soul needs them like a thirsty plant. Thank you.

    • It’s comments like this that inspire me to keep posting. Thank you so much, Angie.

  • So lovely Annabell. A truly beautiful piece and a timely reminder to remember to remember that there are no problems at all when completely in NOW, in the small things (to be true my scraps of musings and odd collection of words are named “Small Town”) and so we no doubt abide there together, with all the others who look at the stars in the sky and breath deeply into the spaces between. Thank you for this perfect piece and it’s peace. Happy Sunday!

    • Have you ever thought of sharing your collection of words called “Small Town”? 🙂 So much gratitude, as I say time and again, for your constant support and interest, Mo. I always think of people like you when I write these sorts of posts.

  • Hi again Annabel, having just read a few articles in Resurgence & ECOLOGIST (ENVIRONMENT•ACTVISM•SOCIAL JUSTICE•ARTS•ETHICAL LIVING) it is a very nice mag….

    BUT, then, I read this, your latest SAVANNABEL post.

    Yours takes the cake Annabel – Charming uplifting colourful inspiring…lovely

    • Hello dear Carrie … and thank you for this really kind comment. I know the mag of which you write. A friend in France sent me about a dozen copies last year. All I can say is, high praise indeed!

  • Amazing writing , thank you!

    • So much gratitude, Lucy!

  • Lovely to stumble upon this Annabel. No less relevant now than when you wrote it a year ago and a lovely confirmation of my own way of dealing with so much going on around us here in Germany too, where, with my wisedom that comes of age (:)) ,I become ever more convinced that the only place you can really make a difference is right within your own four walls and right on your own doorstep… a focus that brings so many of its own rewards. So with you on that in your “dusty patch on the outside of everywhere” – and growing up where we did I know that being on the outside of everywhere brings sooooo many advantages!!

    • Dear Katherine … thank you for this thoughtful and kind comment. I so agree with you. The only place you can really make a difference is in your own community. I’ve learned this from experience, hard as it was! I feel certain that you’re doing exactly that on your patch in Germany. xo

  • Such a beautiful piece to read Annabel, thank you! A breath of fresh air. Lots of love to you all x x x

    • Ahhh, thanks so much, Miks. I know that you see and love the little things, too. 🙂 So hope you and the bump are doing well! Lots of love to you … xo

  • Bravo Annabel, we all need reminding. Thank you

    • Thank you so much, Mandy. How lucky are we to live in such abundance here in Zambia? 🙂 xo

Comments are closed.