And so, the Spring is with us once again. In just a few days the restrictions will ease, we will stumble into gardens, drink beer or wine or otherwise and many of us will choose to count our lucky stars. We’ve come through a terrible time. We don’t need reminders of what we have been through, the people we’ve lost, the bewildering attrition on our patience and reserves of fortitude. During the winter’s high tide of cases we knew that for many – the nurses and doctors, the patients themselves, it must have been like a kind of white heat while all the rest of us could do was wait.
But, the sun shines again, we venture out onto the greens, blinking and buoyant or simply taking it in; the seeming unlikeliness of it; the actual Spring, the tangible immanence of life restored to something much closer to normal. Finding our feet on the way out of this may be like limbering up after a long convalescence. After all, how do we expect to stride full tilt into a return to old ways after so much solitude, so many hours whiled away or spent in furious or steady enterprise? It may take time: we should be patient with ourselves.
In the meantime, is it too much, too soon, to wonder just how we go forward, to think on the things we have learned, how we choose to calibrate our lives; tempered or battered as we may be but still enduring or champing at horizons so newly redeemed? It’s tempting now to holiday and surely many will do so. But will we forget those little points of newly discovered significance upon our daily walks, urban or rural as they may be? Will those young shoots, the weeds in the pavements, the actual woods help inform us as we step into our renewed freedoms, as we cast off the shackles of life lived indoors for so long?
If we can retain a little poise, we may be able to integrate our reflections of these last twelve months as life cranks up another gear or two. We may be able to remember old and new acquaintances, fresh resolutions, priorities granted by the bedrock of life that sustains us, the knowledge in uncertain times when old securities are stripped away: the land herself still underpins the basics of our lives. Without her we are almost literally at sea; her fate is ours just as sure as the dawn.
It’s far from an untimely reminder. As we emerge from one crisis, we are called to engage once again with that much greater emergency, however slow burning – the future of the biosphere itself. The greatest dangers here barely need stating; they are to be found first and foremost in ourselves. We can wilfully ignore it all, perhaps because it seems so large and so intractable a problem, perhaps because we like to think that someone somewhere has it in hand and we need not exercise our own agency. Or perhaps we feel so overwhelmed, so caught-in-the-headlights we don’t know which way we should turn, or we feel it is hopeless or we despair at humanity at large in our apparent heedlessness. Or we stare at it all like a mountain we haven’t yet climbed and wonder if it’s still within our gift.
For many, it doesn’t need stating – those taking to the streets for the climate in some of the biggest protests ever seen in that distant summer of 2019 for example. Or those living out a bitter winter in those many woodlands cut into and despoiled by HS2. Anyone who’s ever been engaged in protest knows the sense of liberation it can bring – that, after the anxiety and soul searching of what’s to be done, action brings catharsis, even peace.
But, of course, to place yourself on any actual front, to witness face to face the destruction and perhaps, historically at least, the brutality of those charged with its execution, is no easy thing and many know only too clearly the toll it can take. But such protests are a reminder, certainly, of everything at stake. They can serve to make society that much more conscious, that much more determined to do what we can.
However much we may like to, we can’t all go off and set up in the woods, whatever the value of life out of doors. But, as this last year has reinforced for so many, time spent in nature can bring a great boon and can certainly help should the going be hard. And it can inform how we act, what we do.
One thing anyone concerned with the climate can do is get behind ‘Zero hour’; the campaign for the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill, currently making its way through the ‘Commons. The Bill is principally concerned with picking up where the Climate Change Act and the Paris Agreement left off; pressing for targets bolder than ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050; a target that has been described by Caroline Lucas as “calling for the fire brigade thirty years down the line”. The campaign is principally calling for people to write to and lobby their MP’s to urge them to support the Bill (140 MP’s and Peers already do so). But there is an almost infinite scope of other means to lend your support, from banner drops to holding public meetings and principally spreading the word however you can to help make the campaign one no politician can afford to ignore.
For those younger, or more inclined to get their hands in the earth, there are all kinds of tree-planting initiatives, including ‘The Children’s Forest’ project, affiliated with the Forest School Association and which I will be writing more about soon. For now, it may be enough to say that it is rooted in envisioning a positive and bountiful future and to let that inform our actions, in this case creating abundant forests for future generations, borne first and foremost in our imaginations.
Perhaps that’s as much as we need to go on for a guiding light; we all know the pitfalls of despondency, denial and despair. But if we can picture the world we would like, strive for it sinew and soul, perhaps that can give us not only the wind in our sails but can help to tangibly create a kind of harbour for our future, however distant arrival may be, however much work it will take.