Friday, 3 July 2020
Tuesday, 30 June 2020
‘We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness’.
Thich Nhat Hanh
The earth warms. Days lengthen. Leave uncurl and unfurl. Buds burst. Birds nest.
Frogs spawn. Bees buzz. Butterflies flutter. Flowers bloom. As the poet Gerald
Hopkins said: ‘Nothing is so beautiful as spring.’ Yet, spring, 2020, has arrived with a
Covid-19 pandemic. Lockdown. Self isolation. Self distancing. Sirens. Bats. Fines.
Key workers. No workers. PPE. A& E. BBC. Keep Safe. Stay home. Protect the
NHS. Safe Lives. Antibodies. No bodies. Virtual hugs. Nasty bugs. Front room.
Zoom. Universal Credit. Furlough. Pangolins. Swabs. Temporary morgues. NHS
heroes. Green space. No space. Care home. No home. Trauma. Testing. PCR. DNA.
Children’s rainbows. Nightingale hospitals. Crisis. Queues. Charts and updates.
Clapping carers. Death toll rising day by day. Waiting for the peak. The plateau.
While goats roam the streets of Landudno. Deer swim in the Bay Of Biscay. Comorants
dive in the clear waters of Venice canals. And whales play in the sea near Marseille. We
are in an apocalyptic film, a surreal painting, a new reality.
Locked in we tune into digital platforms: live streaming, images, and video blogs to
experience the natural world in all its glory. Why are we experiencing this spring more
vividly? Why is it the natural world resonating with us so profoundly in this time?
As the World Health Organisation says, walking in green spaces improves wellbeing and
helps in the treatment of mental illness. People who walk in the natural world are less
likely to report psychological distress. A room with a view is proven to aid recovery.
Being in the countryside reduces blood pressure, heart rate and the production of stress
hormones, which aids concentration, lifts mood, enhances self-esteem and combats
depression. We know all of these things. Most of us take time out to go to parks,
gardens and/or the countryside. The Romantic poet William Wordsworth took a daily
bathe in nature, as he called it. Yet, urgent biophilia is something else…
Urgent biophilia is what is happening right now. It’s a term coined by ecologist Keith
Tidball to express the intense need humans have to connect with the natural world
at times of trauma and crisis. Many people report experiencing an instinctive urge to sow
seeds and tend plants; it’s about communion, awakening, rebalancing. Connecting
with nature is life affirming. During the 1st World War soldiers created flower gardens in
the trenches. It is no surprise that after Hurricane Sandy, 2012, the residents of Beach
41st Street NY worked to restore gardens as a process of restoring themselves; plants are
an expression of survival and rebirth.
‘Nothing in the world is single/All things by a law divine/In one spirit meet and
mingle/Why not I with thine’.
‘The first rule of ecology: everything is connected to everything else’.
If Covid-19 has shown us anything, it’s shown us we’re not in control. The planet is a
complex, finely balanced web of interconnections. Everything is related to everything
else, even you and me. Nothing is separate. Everything has its own integral part to play.
If something is taken away everything shifts.
As the UN’s environmental chief, Inger Andersen points out, to not take care of the
planet is to not take care of ourselves. She stresses our immediate priority is to protect
people from Covi-19 and prevent its spread. We’re all in agreement there. But our long
term response? She says, we must tackle habitat and biodiversity loss. Absolutely, it’s a
subject close to my heart.
When I first moved to Haslington, Cheshire, it was a biodiversity hotspot. That changed
when the developers muscled in with their diggers and chainsaws. Within weeks land
was gobbled up. Trees were uprooted. Streams damned. Fields churned into piles of
earth. Barns converted. Estates built. Habitats trashed. Traffic roared along the new
bypass. Like a bad magic trick the biodiversity hotspot was (almost) gone. Where I once
walked over fields there were office blocks, a bank, health club, hotel and restaurant:
Lunch In 15 Minutes-That’s our promise
Wildlife has lost precious countryside it needs to live and survive. Granted, a small
patch was reclaimed, a designated conservation space, but there are signs telling
visitors to keep to prescribed paths and to look carefully for the wildlife: oh, the irony.
There are rustic picnic tables and benches, bird boxes and an ornamental pond. All very
worthy, but it is a contrived environment. Despite its attempts to be welcoming, it is a
place of rules and regulations, a place of control.
The English writer and poet, D.H. Lawrence (1885-1830) believed there is a life-flame
wreathing through the cosmos, which renews all living things, and the purpose of life is
to attain mystical union with the world. When people lose their contact with the ‘eternal
life-flame’ things go wrong he wrote in his essay The Real Thing. Most of Lawrence’s
books are critical of modern life and growing materialism, claiming people were
becoming alienated from their selves and the natural world. Nothing has changed. So,
now isn’t it time for a new beginning, a new way of living, time for real change?
The American author and scientist Aldo Leopold claims: ‘We can only be ethical in
relation to something that we can feel, understand, love or otherwise have faith in’.
This spring aren’t we proving to ourselves that we love and have faith in the natural
world? When all this is over, do you agree, it’s important to remember the solace nature
has given us? It is giving me.
The old chestnut: there are lessons to be learned springs to mind. What meaning and
construction can we learn from this destruction? What needs to change? Human beings.
We are no more important than any other species.
Despite our anxiety, isn’t the land waking up in all its splendour, reminding us that the
world will carry on and we need to preserve this thing called life for generations to come?
‘People protect what they love’, said the French conservationist, Jacques Cousteau. Who
wouldn’t agree with that nugget of wisdom? So, let’s not forget the love we have for the
natural world during this challenging time when the pace of our lives picks up again.
Hopefully you’ll agree the natural world is soothing us, sustaining us, filling us with
wonder and hope. It is here for us in our hour of need.
The late Polly Higgins was building on her professional experience as a barrister, in
2010, when she presented to the United Nations, her proposal for ecocide to become an
‘What is required is an expansion of our collective duty of care to protect the natural
world and all life.’ All life: trees, rivers, mountains have a right to ‘exist, flourish and
Following her death, author and activist, Naomi Klein tweeted: ‘Her work will live on’.
And I strongly believe: ‘It’s our collective duty of care’ to see that it does. As Michael
McCarthy wrote in Moths, the bond we share with nature ‘is at the very heart of what it
means to be human; that the natural world where we evolved is no mere background, but
at the deepest psychological level it remains our home.’
Earth warms, days lengthen
Birds nest, frogs spawn
Bees buzz, buds burst
Flowers bloom, full moon
Butterflies flutter, people mutter
Isolation, cabin fever
Long distance, no distance
PPE, A & E
BBC, Keep safe
Stay home, protect the NHS
Key workers, no workers
Antibodies, no bodies
Virtual hugs, nasty bugs
Front room, Zoom
Universal credit, furlough
Mental health matters
NHS heroes, clap carers
Green space, no space
Care home, no home
Death toll rising day by day
Bay Of Biscay, deer swim
Goats roam, far from home
whales play, Sea of Marseille
New beginning, New Living
Time For Change
Time to live
Monday, 29 June 2020
I have nearly completed a novella, WILD WAYS which is about a woman, a storyteller, who had become sanitized living in the city. With her partner, Jack and their small daughter, Bel, she returns to the small, stone cottage of her dreams. Here they live happily for three years. She gets back in touch with her wildness within and recovers her powers of story telling which disappeared when she became over-domesticated in the city. Here is a short extract about a night she spends with a vixen...
Something woke me in the dead of night. I sat up. A scent of musk: glandular, strangely sensual,
drifting through the open window. And when I looked, she was there, standing in a pool of
moonlight. Her amber eyes met mine awakening something inside me.
Outside, the vixen pointed her muzzle into the air. Adrenalin flooded my body. She spun in a circle,
her pelt catching spears of moonlight, glanced haughtily over her shoulder barking, as if to say:
So, I did.
The morning ghosted in green as we trotted between oak trees following a track long forgotten. A
faint line through tall grass, a desire path, another way from here to there. A place of vibrating
energy, half-forgotten things, other-dimensional. I stopped to quench my thirst at the stream.
Foraging for insects and earthworms, sniffing the air: bark, sap, mulch. My nose twitched. My ears
pricked. The fur lifted along my spine. As I dropped to my haunches, leapt a long leap. A flurry of
leaf litter. The excitement and fear a tangible taste on my tongue. A squeal as I bit down hard on
the rabbit’s neck, twisting it this way and that, slurping hot blood. A savage snapping. I tore its head
clean off, cracked its skull with my molars. Gorging richly on its brain, slashing its chest, tearing the
soft belly, spilling blubbery ropes of purple and blue, scarlet too. I gobbled it all up, then delicately
licked myself clean.
Satiated, I curled under the roots of an oak tree, smelling acorns and leaves, the malty earth. A
clean, cold calm penetrated my bones. As I felt a presence far bigger than me, one which endured in
my memory. I blinked. The vixen on her paws, flicked her brush. In a flash she was off. Flickers of rust-red ignited by cloud breaks. And I watched her, until she disappeared deep into the forest like a mystery.
Friday, 20 September 2019
Monday, 26 August 2019
Friday, 9 August 2019
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I have nearly completed a novella, WILD WAYS which is about a woman, a storyteller, who had become sanitized living in the city. With her...
A MINDFUL MOMENT A MONEYLESS MAN Before we had Min, Dave and I had lived in cities: Manchester, Amsterdam and Brussels. ...