Monday, 10 November 2014

Remembering our links with the natural world

During this week of remembrance, a couple of things have struck me about our relationship with the natural world and have got me thinking. Of course there is the incredible display of 888,246 ceramic poppies planted in the Tower of London's moat, each poppy representing a British military fatality during the first world war which is one obvious link with nature, but actually it was two other happenings that sent my thought processes into overdrive!

First of all I heard an interview with Helen Macdonald who has just been awarded the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction, for her book “H is for Hawk” – a lyrical depiction of the relationship between a human and a Goshawk.

Consumed with sadness after her father's sudden death, she acquired the Goshawk as she had always been fascinated by falconry, throwing herself completely and utterly into training the hawk, as a way to deflect her suffering. She talked eloquently, not only of how much she had learnt about the ways of the hawk, but also nature, and indeed herself.

“We’re increasingly enforcing the boundaries between humans and wild animals: there are very few opportunities these days to interact closely with them at all. I think this impoverishes human lives. And it also makes animals small and far away, so we don’t care about them as deeply.

It’s one thing to read that there are fewer Wood Warblers now than thirty years ago, but it is a different thing to read how it feels to sense their absence in a wood that was once a place made of Wood Warblers as well as trees in your mind. Communicating the pain of losses like that can’t be done with statistics”.

Oh, how very, very true. As vital as good data is, we must of course always interpret “cold” figures, turning them into a “warmer” reality – making them come alive if we are to effect change. Scientists please take note.

Then I heard the famous "Ode of Remembrance" taken from Laurence Binyon’s poem "For the Fallen", which was first published in the Times in September 1914.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn,
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Over looking the Rumps

How interesting that Binyon wrote the poem while sitting on the cliffs between Pentire Point and the Rumps in north Cornwall – an area I know well. He was not in front of a typewriter in an office with no windows, but instead he was “feeling” every word he wrote, on behalf of those brave men who had lost their lives, by being part of the very landscape they had fought for.

Many folk (myself included) acknowledge having “special” places which are often (but not always) situated far away from the noise and bustle of everyday life. Places where they admit to feeling close to departed family or friends and where spiritual emotions become heightened.

I don’t think that we should be at all surprised that the natural world still has an impact on us despite the so called “civilised” way that we now claim to live.  It is estimated that the first members of the human family (hominins) lived in Africa about 6 or 7 million years ago and so we have evolved over a long period of time.

Only very recently have we become the first “urbanised” nation and thereby potentially started off this disconnection process from the natural world. By the 1850s, more than 50% of the 21 million population of this country was living in towns, of which 2.3 million were in London, making Britain’s people completely unique in the world at that time.

I agree with Helen Macdonald that if we lose these important links with the natural world, we are potentially discarding part of our evolutionary make up, which must surely lead to more impoverished lives in general. That might be when it comes to dealing with grief, writing prose or, indeed, sorting out who and what we are and how we could all live in harmony, not only with each other, but with all other life in this beautiful world in which we find ourselves.   

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for revealing where Binyon wrote his memorable poem.