I am writing this in May 2020.
On Friday, the air was so clear that you could see for miles. It was a day with high winds. I was out on a 17 k walk across farms and open country, and I watched in awe as an oak tree of around 70 years old, danced in the breeze, swirling it’s whole body, because it appeared anthropromorphised, and shook it’s arms like it was lost in a dancing frenzy.
Of course we know that there is perhaps a biological reason for this, and that trees send out tiny spores which communicate with other trees in the region. In other words, perhaps this movement isn’t just a dance of joy which has no meaning, there is a deeper purpose to it. (For more information on tree behaviour seek out research on how trees communicate with one another.) There is an interesting article here on the BBC website:
which has found that, for example an
American black walnut tree…inhibits the growth of many plants, including staples like potatoes and cucumbers, by releasing a chemical called jugalone from its leaves and roots.
Indulge me for a moment. Imagine for one minute that when “Lockdown” occurred, you were deprived of all entertainment. For some reason you were unable to access the internet, read free blogs like this one, read free journals and reportage, stream music, watch media on your screen. What would be left?
Three things; people, nature and your own creativity.
Now we both know that this virus excluded us from interacting with people. We couldn’t just leave our families at home and enter another world for the day; whether we wanted to or not, we had to stay put and not spend time with people. That left only two things, nature and creatively. Those of us who thought, wrongly or rightly, that we were not creative may have spent more time on nature, cutting the lawn, the hedges, tending a plant, walking the dog, taking the family outside. Many of us, if we are honest, relied on the creativity of others to get us through this to some extent. We listened to an old song, we discovered a new channel or radio station, we found a blog, a new recipe, a piece of art or photography that inspired us. We read a book we had been meaning to.
Who are the “key workers”?
As the weeks rolled on, we began to appreciate who we needed, the “key workers” – not just the NHS, but shop people; people who served us and stacked shelves. We decided they ought to be praised and thanked. We clapped for them on Thursdays, we put signs outside our houses, signs of thanks and encouragement.
One thing that struck me was that we did not acknowledge in all this, the creative people that sustained us, the broadcasters, the artists, the writers, and singers. Yes, we mentioned that people were reading more and turning to books, yes, we remembered singers that died during the pandemic, and yet never once did I hear anyone mention that key workers were artists, writers and broadcasters; creative people.
Something else happened during “Lockdown,” people kept worrying about GDP, market volatility, the price of oil, business failing. In short: money.
After a while, because the virus didn’t go away, because people kept on dying, because the pandemic moved and inflicted its special kind of horror on Italy, Spain, South Korea, New York, and then Britain, and America, we began to look for hope. We began to celebrate nature. We noticed that birds were singing, we mused that they seemed to be singing louder. We noticed more flies were visible and finally, because we were all “grounded” (as some of us refer to it), we began to experience the joy of cleaner air. Finally, just last week, we noticed the clearer air; we noticed that we could see further. Those of us lucky to have been alive in the 1970s noticed how like then this was; how quiet, how clean.
By now, many of us were working from home. We’d adapted easier than expected to the “new normal.” We didn’t need our ritual coffee in the morning, at Starbucks, Nero, Costa, Coffee 1, or our local coffee shop. That habit we had stolen to compensate us for the lack of a break in the morning or afternoon, if we were Private Sector workers, was no longer a necessity. We made our own coffee and established different routines in our front gardens. Nature began to sustain us once more. We noticed the birds singing louder. We were told this was because the lack of noise from cars meant birds were venturing into hedges and trees to nest closer to roads. Still, whether that was true or not, we noticed the birdsong and we enjoyed it. Here in Britain, we marvelled at our ability to show self-restraint and consideration for ourselves and others by staying at home and observing social distancing rules when out and about.
Money, money, money
Maybe some of us have realised how we have been sleepwalking towards our own destruction. I don’t know. It’s just that yesterday I went out for my daily cycle ride (something I’ve been doing since 2017, when I lost my job in a local school), and didn’t want to succumb to the depressed state I found myself in in 2016, when I had little income, and put on a large amount of weight because I had to survive on around £7 a day for several months with a child to feed and drive to a school 9 miles away. As I was saying, I went out for my usual bike ride, which varies from 6k to 40k, and discovered that the Bristol air was, once again, thick with exhaust fumes.
It strikes me that one thing we have learned is how interconnected we all are. We need one another, and nature, to survive. Nature sustains us.
Why then, do we return so readily to our oxygen polluting vehicles? Why are we so keen to drown out the birdsong, to pollute our clear skies, to damage the habitats of our wildlife?
Many of us have been able to work from home. For many of us this has not been without challenges. We have had to change, to find new ways of working. But surely this is better than the alternative we had before. The choked roads, the choked children.
The health of our children
I have five children, and the two youngest have the worst hay fever and asthma. Why is this? In short, what is causing our bodies to overreact to the environment around us? What will it take for us to wake up and see that we all deserve an equal share of happiness and health? It isn’t necessary, as I did, for several months in 2018, to drive 20 or 30 miles to work everyday. To sit in a car for hours, clogging up roads with petrol fumes and preventing cyclists from riding in peace, or children from enjoying the out doors.
Just before this pandemic a large number of birds were said to have made a misjudgement which caused them to crash into a road killing themselves in Wales, Great Britain:
I remembered the wording of the reportage of this event because it struck me that we were somehow changing our view of how animals communicate with one another, or attributing powers to them that we had previously not believed were possible.
I am all for growth, and, for example, we did not believe in neuroplasticity for so long that this caused us to react in very fixed ways to behaviour (behavior), our management of it and our punishment of it. Now that we know that people are capable of change and that the brain can make new connections and grow we are more able to accept that we can change behaviour (behavior); the behaviour (behavior), of ourselves and others:
I would like to take the time to point out that this is merely a short article, based on snippets of information, drawn together at what seems like a random pace, and there is no scientific rigour (rigor), in this article, and yet perhaps all the events are interconnected. I will leave that for you to ponder.
Whatever the reason for what appeared as a visual mass suicide of birds here in GB–the death of so many birds–surely anyone can see that, like this metaphoric death, we had been killing ourselves and nature, maybe even our very nature, which sustains us in times of crisis. If we continue to do this, as Greta Thunberg and others have warned us, then all the money in the world will not save us.
Is there a solution?
We need to work and to share our unique gifts, but do we really need to sit in cars and offices staring at screens for hours to do that? Perhaps, like me, as I sit here at this screen, determined to draw your attention to a few significant occurrences this past year, we do need to sit in front of screens for a few hours a day, but do we need to do this all day, five days a week? Perhaps we can find new ways of working, living and creating which sustain our planet, nature, creativity and growth.
I think that many of us will have noticed something else. Something that some people predicted right at the beginning of this pandemic; three things have sustained us in this crisis, Love, Nature and Creativity.
(updated, 11:07, 27-05-2020)
Photograph by Hermione Laake
Foxglove, photographed in the evening sunlight on Wednesday evening, May 20th, 2020. No special effects were used to attain the glow on the foxgloves or the lupins (Lupinus, Lupine), in the article on my gardening website. You can find all the photographs on the post “ethereal foxgloves” at https://wordpress.com/view/hermionelaakeloveslavender.wordpress.com