I come to you today, feeling empty. There are no more excuses. Today I witnessed a blackbird lying down in the grass like a cat. I had seen the pigeons do this a month ago, but I thought little of it. Perhaps they had become domesticated, since they had fallen out of their nest and into an uncovered chimney at our house and we rescued them when they were fledglings. They seemed to have decided to camp out in the garden since they have grown. They were a little fat. Perhaps they were being lazy. Or perhaps not. I did speak to my daughter about the pigeons, since their reliance on the garden seems rather comical. She told me she had noticed blackbirds behaving in the same way; this in another county, several miles away. “What?” I replied. “Blackbirds? Are you sure they were blackbirds?” Well, I was wrong to doubt this. Today, I myself observed the same thing. I should know that my daughter is more knowledgeable than I am on many animals and that her almost two decades of observing animals will have stood her in good stead to comment. I didn’t believe her because it seemed too incredible; blackbirds lying down in the grass.
Thing must change. We all need to change our focus to work with nature and not against it.
When I was an A level student of French, I remember that we were supposed to write about recycling for our A level paper. But I thought that there were other things we should be talking about. I was serious about having conversations in other languages because I felt that the British were arrogant expecting everyone to converse in English. This approach seemed to me to be one that left the British in an ignorant and uninformed position, and it was dangerous, since when you are only informed in one language you miss nuances and delicate turns of phrase, idiosyncratic sayings and customs which are borne out of experience, and you miss opportunities to learn; everything is seen and translated from your own perspective, which can make you oblivious to the needs and suffering of others. This, of course filters down to our relationship with nature. I decided to rebel and wrote my paper on the demise of the blue butterfly for the exam. That was over twenty years ago in the late 90s, and I didn’t get a great mark, probably because everybody else was writing about recycling (for me that was old news, since I had been recycling since the 1980s, and grew up with a grandmother that used to collect silver milk bottle tops for the blind and fold her Christmas paper and carrier bags up to re-use them). I am happy to say that for the past two years, I have noticed a few tiny blue butterflies flying around here in south Gloucestershire so something good must have happened to increase their numbers.
Now, having spent much of my childhood outdoors (I used to go gardening with my father who was a landscape gardener and I had a plot of earth in my back garden which I tended, as well as a gardening business of my own which I set up at the age of 11), I am used to the ways of the plants and the wild life that frequent the garden. I was so used to the outdoors that I used to be able to tell the time simply by the position of the sun in the sky to the minute. I was lucky enough to be able to choose to give up my 6-year career in retail management in 1990 to look after a young family, and this meant that I could once again spend time outdoors and in nature. And I did this, planting trees and nurturing my children and the gardens. Because of this, I am experienced enough to share with you that we have gone far enough and we have to stop now because our behaviour is not harmonious.
“Forget Covid-19” may seem like a provocative statement since many people are still at risk. And yet, if we do not change radically, then we will not be living on this planet for much longer and diseases will be irrelevant. When the birds, that never change, begin to change then you need to start worrying. You need to listen and you need to pay attention.
I was idly looking at The Times this morning, having worked on a journal that I do some part-time work for, and having just finished re-reading Dances with Wolves, and having updated two of my blogs, when an article in the Times caught my eye; three women were dressed in face masks to match their outfits. This struck me as odd because still after all that we have learned from Greta Thunberg and the scientists who support her, we are still worrying about our looks even when we have the need to cover most of our faces. In fact, it strikes me as a form of madness. This obsession with the self. This obsession with being seen. And yet, perhaps it is not so mad after all, because perhaps the obsession with being seen is the last death throes of a dying planet. Yet what will we leave behind as our legacy for any future planet but hundreds of photographs of ourselves smiling into cameras? As if we were saying it is ok, I am here. I am happy after all. Don’t worry. The protagonist of the book I was reading, John Dunbar, or Dances with Wolves (his Comanche name), was also someone who liked to be seen, and yet he learnt through a journey of spending time with Comanches and his own people what being seen really means, it wasn’t his clothes or looks that made him what he was, it was his kindness to animals. Read it if you have time. It is about living in harmony with nature and respecting nature.
I may be someone who did not reach my full potential while at school because I was always dreaming, with my head in a book or my eyes staring out of a window, but I know that this was valuable time that I spent (later on, after writing several works of fiction, I went to university and caught up), you see I noticed things. It seems to me that other people do not notice the subtle changes in nature. Perhaps this is because they do not spend time out doors in nature. And we cannot blame them for that. But if you sit in front of your computers all day then you will not notice the strange behaviour of birds and you will not notice changes in behaviour either.
Gardens, like children, need nurture
Gardens are like children they need attention, care and nurture. Without it they wither and die. Sometimes a plant is down to one solitary leaf, and then by moving it you can restore it and it can thrive and grow to eight foot. But you need to know how to do this. How will you learn if you spend all of your days staring at a computer screen and worrying about money–GDP this and KPI that? While you are sitting down you are not exercising your body. Therefore, your body is not thriving and it will find it more difficult to battle with diseases. Surely anyone can see that a few hours in front of a computer is enough for any human being every day. Surely humans are supposed to spend time walking and exercising, taking fresh air and interacting with other humans and nature, face-to-face. When we do not interact face-to-face, we lose the ability to sense cues in body language and in facial expressions. Why are we doing this to ourselves? What is this race that we are in?
We need to stop and ask ourselves whether it will be worth it when we have stored up all the money that we can gather together and we have nothing superficial or meaningless to spend it on. What then? Will there be any ancient trees left to sustain the atmosphere? Will there be any vegetation to sustain the animals that are part of a delicate eco-system? Will there be any animals? When the oceans are full of our cups and plastic what fish will be left to sustain us? Perhaps we can go back to catching and eating birds. But will there be any birds left?