Autumn, in her characteristic colourful cycle, is in full ochre bloom and bluster, with winter waiting conspicuously in the wings. Where has this year gone?
It has evaporated into time’s ether, barely noticeable under the weight of challenges this year has borne witness to. And, my dear reader, I guess you are also handling your own significant challenges. I hope you are safe and well.
I have been absent from my normal activities for a few months, a family crisis that, still unresolved, has totally derailed me; emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. Suffice to say, that when a mother faces such a challenge involving one of her children it is no small thing. As a result, I had unintentionally put myself in the shadow side of Demeter’s archetypal shoes. She is one of the three vulnerable goddesses.
I plan to write about the archetypes of Greek mythology, it is a fascinating psychological subject. I have three main archetypes that affect my life: Artemis, Aphrodite and Demeter.
Gradually I have returned to a modicum of functioning, and a good measure of my recovery (apart from my family and friends), has been derived out in nature.
Normally playing my violin would offer substantial succour for such deeply felt pain, but unfortunately my violin bridge collapsed and other parts of my beloved instrument badly needed replacing as well. For a violin that’s over 120 years old, this maintenance and renovation has been 35 years overdue in my ownership!!
I’m not sure if that’s a metaphor for my life at the moment – I certainly have missed her shiny wooden curves and dulcet tones (when playing well at least). But there is hope on the horizon, for it is having a complete overhaul by one of the most talented restorers in the UK.
Hopefully I’ll be able to create a rich, melodic sound, (if I haven’t forgotten how to play in two months), even though my bank account will be much attenuated.
Taking up yoga and appreciating the raw beauty of my garden and going for walks have lifted my spirits a great deal.
I have written before about autumn – my favourite season despite my aversion to cold weather!
In the last few days of October last year, my best friend invited me away for a long weekend to her place in North Devon. It’s not an area I was particularly familiar with, (Cornwall has generally been my place of pilgrimage), but I found it lovely. I thought I would share some pictures of a trip Sophie and I made to the RHS Garden Rosemoor on a mild but wet and misty day. My retinas were overwhelmed by the colours and contrasts.
We also visited the home of Dartington Crystal, and consumed a hearty pub lunch after we spent an hour or two roaming around the stunningly wild coast of Hartland Point. Hartland was used as the coastal location of Manderley in the recent film based on Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel, Rebecca:
Of course photographs can never do justice compared to seeing such botanical wonders in the flesh, but it can at least give a sense of the beauty contained in a quiet valley of North Devon.
I have not written any poetry for some time, it has never been a talent of mine, but it is oddly cathartic and creative to let my mind wander in this direction whenever I think about nature.
There is no doubt that our species has achieved some truly amazing feats.
But we have made many mistakes too, some with serious ramifications. Man’s innate curiosity led him to explore his surroundings and then spread further afield until he covered the planet in his search for a better life for his ‘tribe’.
But the current hegemony of Homo sapiens will be short lived, in evolutionary terms, if we don’t have the humility and hindsight to take responsibility for how we got here.
“It is worse, much worse, than you think. The slowness of climate change is a fairy tale, perhaps as pernicious as the one that says it isn’t happening at all, and comes to us bundled with several others in an anthology of comforting delusions: that global warming is an Arctic saga, unfolding remotely; that it is strictly a matter of sea level and coastlines, not an enveloping crisis sparing no place and leaving no life undeformed; that it is a crisis of the “natural” world, not the human one; that those two are distinct, and that we live today somehow outside or beyond or at the very least defended against nature, not inescapably within and literally overwhelmed by it; that wealth can be a shield against the ravages of warming; that the burning of fossil fuels is the price of continued economic growth; that growth, and the technology it produces, will allow us to engineer our way out of environmental disaster; that there is any analogue to the scale or scope of this threat, in the long span of human history, that might give us confidence in staring it down. None of this is true. But let’s begin with the speed of change. The earth has experienced five mass extinctions before the one we are living through now, each so complete a wiping of the fossil record that it functioned as an evolutionary reset, the planet’s phylogenetic tree first expanding, then collapsing, at intervals, like a lung: 86 percent of all species dead, 450 million years ago; 70 million years later, 75 percent; 125 million years later, 96 percent; 50 million years later, 80 percent; 135 million years after that, 75 percent again. Unless you are a teenager, you probably read in your high school textbooks that these extinctions were the result of asteroids. In fact, all but the one that killed the dinosaurs involved climate change produced by greenhouse gas. The most notorious was 250 million years ago; it began when carbon dioxide warmed the planet by five degrees Celsius, accelerated when that warming triggered the release of methane, another greenhouse gas, and ended with all but a sliver of life on Earth dead. We are currently adding carbon to the atmosphere at a considerably faster rate; by most estimates, at least ten times faster. The rate is one hundred times faster than at any point in human history before the beginning of industrialization. And there is already, right now, fully a third more carbon in the atmosphere than at any point in the last 800,000 years—perhaps in as long as 15 million years. There were no humans then.”
We must now harness the creative and critical thinking edge that the Cognitive Revolution birthed, and that catapulted us into the Anthropocene, to figure out how we can repair much of the destruction left in our wake; now that we have woken up to the fact that it threatens our survival.
One could argue that our rise to the Age of Humans is ‘progress’, a necessary evolution, but such progress comes with responsibilities. We cannot accept a continuing attitude that the end justifies the means. Unless we curb and alter our progress it will prove to be the road to perdition for Homo sapiens.
Homo sapiens means ‘wise man’, but for a species credited with such erudition we have certainly demonstrated ignorance in equal measure…
O, it is excellent
To have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous
To use it like a giant.
Isabella (Act 2, Scene 2)
~ William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
The four horsemen of the apocalypse could prove to be greed, arrogance, apathy and indifference.
As well as conveying the beauty, awe and wonder of Earth in his latest programme, Seven Worlds, One Planet, Sir David Attenborough repeated the ongoing message of habitat destruction and climate change.
Despite the Coronavirus, the fact remains that climate change is the single biggest threat to all life on Earth in the Age of Humans.
Biodiversity and sustainability
At the launch of the spectacular Netflix nature programme Our Planet, Sir David Attenborough gave a clear message: we must find a way to survive that does not entail decimating the natural world, because biodiversity equals stability.
SUSTAINABILITY should be our new watch word, a global standard that helps to protect biodiversity in the interest future generations.
If we managed two mass extinctions as hunter-gatherers, (the decimation of two continent’s mega-fauna with just hand tools), imagine what damage we can inflict now, thousands of years later, with efficient machines in this industrial and technological age?
Rapid, wholesale destruction of rainforests by agribusiness for short term profit over long term ecological stability is crazy, and should not be allowed to continue unabated.
We cannot continue to bludgeon our way through our planet’s natural resources with no regard for the consequences.
Over the last year I have phased out processed food from our diet (apart from the odd treat), and I look carefully at the ingredients and buy brands like Nairn’s that only use sustainable palm oil.
This passage from Sapiens illustrates how Homo sapiens have evolved too quickly, thus creating massive environmental problems for ourselves and the planet:
Genus Homo’s position in the food chain was, until quite recently, solidly in the middle. For millions of years, humans hunted smaller creatures and gathered what they could, all the while being hunted by larger predators. It was only 400,000 years ago that several species of man began to hunt large game on a regular basis, and only in the last 100,000 years – with the rise of Homo Sapiens – that man jumped to the top of the food chain.
That spectacular leap from the middle to the top had enormous consequences. Other animals at the top of the pyramid, such as lions and sharks, evolved into that position very gradually, over millions of years. This enabled the ecosystem to develop checks and balances that prevent lions and sharks from wreaking too much havoc. As lions became deadlier, so gazelles evolved to run faster, hyenas to co-operate better, and rhinoceroses to be more bad-tempered.
In contrast, humankind ascended to the top so quickly that the ecosystem was not given time to adjust. Moreover, humans themselves failed to adjust. Most top predators of the planet are majestic creatures. Millions of years of dominion have filled them with self-confidence. Sapiens by contrast is more like a banana-republic dictator. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savannah, we are full of fears and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes, have resulted from this over-hasty jump.
~ Yuval Noah Harari (Sapiens)
On our way to the top of the food chain humans domesticated fire, gaining control of a powerful, obedient and potentially limitless force. Unlike other animals, humans could decide when and where to ignite a flame and use it for numerous tasks. Our use of fire was not limited by our physical form, structure or strength. A child with a fire stick could burn down an entire forest.
Metaphorically, this seems like exactly what our still relatively ‘young’ species has done to the planet!
The Cognitive Revolution
The Cognitive Revolution was probably the defining moment in humanity’s evolution thus far – the ability of our species to communicate, to gossip, to develop ever larger social structures, to organise ourselves, collaborate and plan and imagine outcomes. It was the beginning of creativity and storytelling.
No other creature on Earth has developed this mental capacity.
Creation of Man by Michelangelo
We lived for millennia in a similar fashion to our closest genetic cousins, chimpanzees; who survive still in small hierarchical communities lead by an alpha male, having to intervene in squabbles when necessary, and deal with challenges to his authority from younger males who would usurp him, along with his right to sire many of the infants in his group and continue his blood line.
The atmosphere can be aggressive at times, but it is permeated with playfulness, loving mothers, friendships and sub groups that garner support by giving and receiving favours such as picking out fleas and grooming.
You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours… It’s a well known fact in psychology that people respond in kind.
What is the American president but the alpha male of the United States, if not the world? Or for that matter, the Pope is the alpha male of the Catholic Church.
Current political favours and manoeuvrings aren’t so far removed from our ancestral chimp roots, just more sophisticated.
Image by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash
Brutality is cloaked by bullies in suits: corruption, corporate malfeasance and brainwashing in the media and all the machinations of imperfect democracies.
What is democracy but millions of people choosing to believe in certain imagined realities?
Female chimpanzees are not able to look at and study the example of the more balanced and loved-up societies of Bonobos, which are run by their more emancipated female relatives, and translate that learning into more freedom and peace for themselves in their own environments.
But the rise of feminism in human society arose from women’s collective desire for a fairer, more meaningful and egalitarian life. It is, of course, an ongoing challenge in a patriarchal society.
Such dramatic changes in behaviour do not occur in the animal kingdom unless environmental pressures or mutations in DNA initiate them.
But since the Cognitive Revolution humans have been able to change their thoughts and pass on new ideas and behaviours to future generations without any need of genetic or environmental change.
This ability to transform our social structures, the nature of interpersonal relations and our economic activities is a beacon of hope that we can collectively adapt our social behaviours in relation to conservation, waste management, consumption, future innovation and living more cleanly in respect to climate change.
Environmental pressure is certainly driving our continued evolution!
Our species’ nascent curiosity all those thousands of years ago made us think and ask: what would it be like to sail to another land?
The diverse cultures that we are part of and can experience through travelling could not have grown without a curiosity about the world and our place in it.
The temples and pyramids we have built, the gods we have worshipped, the land we have tilled and shaped, the art and music we have expressed (even from the days of cave men) has all been possible because of the Cognitive Revolution.
The freedom to think and act gave us power, and we’re still learning how to wield it.
Sophisticated language and the ability to create ‘imagined realities’ meant that humans could go from living in small groups to creating cities and empires, religions and ideologies, law and order. We could co-operate on hitherto unknown scales.
Money was, and is, the most universally successful creation that mankind invented. Even two people who are born in different geographical locations, and diametrically opposed in their beliefs, their lifestyles and outlooks will both use money in their everyday lives. It is humanity’s common denominator – as is nature and our home planet, Earth.
How do you get millions of people to act in a certain way? It comes down to common goals and shared beliefs. We are individuals, but still able to work together for perceived mutual benefit.
We may be able to disagree on one or two issues, but have many other overriding positive connections that outweigh any disagreements. That is the beauty of freedom of speech and social interaction. The challenges occur when we can’t overcome our differences or agree on a particular imagined reality.
Brexit springs to mind!
Once Homo sapiens started telling stories we never stopped. We evolved our capacity to craft and learn from stories. Myths and stories are the glue of our social connections.
Our physical evolution may have continued at the normal glacial pace, but our imagination raced ahead, enabling us to build networks of mass co-operation.
Social media amplifies this ability to a truly staggering global level.
All the leaders in history have used stories to their advantage, and the best ones used them for the good of humanity. We still tell and read stories that were written years, decades and centuries ago, because we continue to find value and entertainment in them.
Now it is time to tell the most important story in modern history, the one that’s uncomfortable and sometimes frightening to hear, about how we are destroying our planet.
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” ~ Albert Einstein
Dystopian climate disaster movies that have been portrayed on the silver screen are now becoming an all too frequent reality in different areas of the planet.
“Fully half of British emissions, it was recently calculated, come from inefficiencies in construction, discarded and unused food, electronics, and clothing; two-thirds of American energy is wasted; globally, according to one paper, we are subsidizing the fossil fuel business to the tune of $5 trillion each year. None of that has to continue.”
~ David Wallace-Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming
It’s one thing to hear that elephants, tigers, lions, bees, dolphins and whales are going extinct, and that the earth is becoming uninhabitable, and quite another to experience an unthinkable reality that moves us emotionally into action.
Whether driven by love or fear, we need lots of new stories about climate change, biodiversity, mass extinctions, pollution and human disease to be told in different ways to different audiences.
It’s our only chance of making such rapid changes to create a paradigm shift on how we have contributed to the problems facing humanity and how we can solve them. It no longer serves us to be insatiable consumers of natural resources, our fictional realities now need to focus on being the protectors, custodians and lovers of our dwindling abundance.
International co-operation is key. Leaders of nations need to come together and set aside large areas of land and sea as protected from human activity, purely for conservation. Nature has shown she can recover if we give her a helping hand.
Sir David Attenborough used the example of a group of islands in south east Asia as an example. Massive over fishing depleted the waters and the coral reefs significantly declined.
The screen filled with eerie images of thousands of giant jellyfish undulating below the surface – the consequence of there being no fish. This is what awaits us beneath the ocean if we continue in that vein. However, this group of islands was declared a national marine park, and within a decade it had recovered most of its biodiversity.
Sir David stated that a third of coastal seas on our planet should be protected as marine parks in this way, so that they can recover from over fishing.
The wasteland of Chernobyl is another example of nature recovering free from human interference:
Sir David Attenborough with some solutions:
The giant Australian marsupial Diprotodon became extinct because it couldn’t adjust in time to develop a fear of humans, who duly massacred them all.
The irony is, nature is now forcing us to adapt to ourselves…
There is no one single historical antecedent to the Anthropocene.
What we call ‘history’ is us recording and looking back at our fictions and imaginations and the outcomes our actions shaped. This elusive, mysterious quality of mind was the driving force behind our evolution.
To me, the logical next step in our evolution is that of the spirit – the unseen.
Moving from being a person that purely experiences the world through just their five senses, to being multi-sensory beings; developing awareness of our inner motivations, emotions and behaviour, being comfortable with stillness, the oneness of all that is, developing empathy, gratitude, a loving nature and a love for nature, becoming highly intuitive and learning to transcend our evolutionary animal inheritance from our chimpanzee days – the ego.
I feel strongly that healing the planet will be achieved with more insight and awareness, and more rapidly, if we can first take responsibility for ourselves and care for each other.
World domination never succeeded (at least for very long), on an individual level, national or empirical level. Just look at Hitler, Stalin and countless other despots, egomaniacs and repressive regimes.
Collectively we influence each other and the planet, to the extent that the consequences of our actions are magnified and compounded in the Age of Humans.
If we all adopted the attitude of asking what serves all of life, rather than what just serves humanity, or purely what serves me, where could we be?
In today’s world, amid efforts to combat a myriad of crises of climate, politics, medicine, and socioeconomics, we are in a constant state of emergency…
Which leads to forced adaptation rather than evolution.
But in order to evolve to our highest potential, individually and as a species, we must access and cultivate the innate and largely unexplored capabilities already within us.
~ Steve Farrell, Worldwide Executive Director – Humanity’s Team
We don’t have to become monks, saints, or even permanently altruistic beings, we can still follow our dreams and aspirations, enjoy our lives; but with an increased awareness of the impact of our actions.
We each have more power than we think.
A profound solution – Consciousness creates reality:
I heard a beautiful explanation of intuition by Gary Zukav, he said that it is the voice of the non-physical world. Cognition could be exponentially more powerful when we are aligned with a higher purpose and the non physical part of ourselves – the soul.
To give future souls a chance at evolving we must preserve the physical stage upon which they can do so – planet Earth.
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
~ William Shakespeare (from All the World’s a Stage speech) As You Like It
“A walk is only a step away from a story, and every path tells.”
~ Robert Macfarlane
I hope you are having a good summer! Yesterday, here in the UK, we had the hottest day of the year, and the second hottest day ever of recorded temperatures in the UK – a scorching 38.1 degrees. Heaven knows how people in Paris coped with 42 degrees!
For my part, I was helping to lug timbers for my garden cabin from the driveway to the back garden, with my son and the builders. I was feeling like a wilted flower after that…
It’s a short one from me today, as we are travelling in a few hours, but I’ll be back (hopefully rejuvenated and invigorated), after my holiday.
I make it a habit (most days), to take a short walk in and around the mini-meadow and woods near our home after I drop my daughter at school. It gets my blood flowing, ideas streaming and just sets me up for the day. That quiet time spent in the natural world revitalises my mind, body and spirit, connects me to nature and fills me with gratitude for the beauty on my doorstep.
A recent report has cited the importance of getting at least 2 hours per week in nature to promote health and well-being. It’s important for our microbiome too, being in contact with mud, bark, leaves and all the bacteria that live outdoors that we need for inner diversity.
I’m looking forward to exploring parts of different landscapes with my family in Iceland, the USA and Canada over the next two weeks.
I’m aware I need to practice poetry, it’s not easy for me, but I still enjoy the discipline of expressing my thoughts in that medium when the mood takes me.
Body wanders where spirit directs me,
A mini meadow beckons; green show-stopper,
Crisscrossed by perambulating bees,
Drawn to hypnotic strumming of grasshoppers,
Accompanied by pigeons, softly cooing,
As wild flowers sway in the breeze,
A small, but vibrant oasis blooming,
Butterflies flit from flowers to trees.
Here, in the long grass, energy abounds,
Nature’s summer symphony astounds…
Blackberry buds are preparing to ripen,
Berries cluster, fulsome and shiny,
Mossy stumps are covered in lichen,
Early morn, here, in this magical prairie,
A weary soul escapes to soar,
Up beyond the wood’s silent sentinels,
Their boughs whispering to reassure:
Cherish the canopied path; Earth’s angels.
Insects mate on a pure bed of petals,
Avoiding the prickly purple thistles.
Striding beneath the dappled sunlight,
Soles cushioned on withered acorns,
Roaming like Artemis: a goddesses’ delight
Fills my veins; unbridled freedom born,
Relishing the sensory arousal of wilderness,
The twitching of tails and fleeting glimpses,
Of squirrels darting – spritely grey litheness,
Birds warbling and singing, sonic spritzes.
The woods and mini meadow are my sanctuary,
Urban antidote – a place to linger and tarry.
By Virginia Burges
Walks in the Austrian countryside inspired Beethoven’s evocative and beautifully bucolic 6th symphony. We certainly had a storm like his musical one two nights ago!
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a true poet of the natural world, Robert Macfarlane, talking about the landscape and the human heart:
“There is no mystery in this association of woods and otherworlds, for as anyone who has walked the woods knows, they are places of correspondence, of call and answer. Visual affinities of colour, relief and texture abound. A fallen branch echoes the deltoid form of a streambed into which it has come to rest. Chrome yellow autumn elm leaves find their colour rhyme in the eye-ring of the blackbird. Different aspects of the forest link unexpectedly with each other, and so it is that within the stories, different times and worlds can be joined.”
“Once upon a time, words began to vanish from the language of children. They disappeared so quietly that at first almost no one noticed – fading away like water on stone.” ~ Robert Macfarlane (The Lost Words)
The Lost Words
When I purchased The Lost Words for my youngest daughter as a Christmas present I honestly didn’t expect it to be such a hit. Not just with her, but also with me and her older, harder-to-please pre-teen sister.
This book is something special, it’s absolutely magical…
In 2007 the Children’s Oxford English Dictionary removed several words pertaining to the natural world. Words like fern, kingfisher and bluebell were discarded and ditched in order to make room for technological terms like blog, chatroom and database.
The acclaimed best-selling author Robert Macfarlane teamed up with the talented illustrator and writer, Jackie Morris, to draw attention to the incomprehensible actions of the Children’s Oxford English Dictionary. They weren’t happy that these wonderful words (and the things they represent), had been marginalised in a misguided move by a mainstream publication.
The introduction page to each lost word encourages children to follow the letters and discover the erased word.
Soulless technology words, which can easily be taught in IT lessons at school, were deemed to be more relevant to young people. I was flabbergasted, disgusted and sad when I heard this.
How could the words ACORN, ADDER, BLUEBELL, BRAMBLE, CONKER, DANDELION, FERN, HEATHER, HERON, IVY, KINGFISHER, LARK, MAGPIE, NEWT, OTTER, RAVEN, STARLING, WEASEL, WILLOW and WRENbe considered not worthy enough to be part of a child’s vocabulary?
“Think of the fierce energy concentrated in an acorn! You bury it in the ground, and it explodes into an oak!” ~ George Bernard Shaw
Their removal and relegation displays an attitude of sickening insouciance by the faceless powers that be, as they dispassionately move pieces of the landscape in dictionary land. But thanks to Robert and Jackie they have been gloriously restored in The Lost Words.
Neither of my daughters particularly enjoy reading anything resembling poetry, but they loved Robert Macfarlane’s engaging, beguiling and evocative language in each of the cleverly arranged acrostic poems, or ‘spells’.
The Lost Words is described by the author as a ‘spellbook’ and it has certainly put a spell on us!
“You hold in your hands a spellbook for conjuring back these lost words. To read it you will need to seek, find and speak. It deals in things that are missing and things that are hidden, in absences and appearances. Its tone is gold – the gold of the goldfinches that flit through its pages in charms – and it holds not poems but spells of many kinds that might just, the old, strong magic of being spoken aloud, unfold dreams and songs, and summon lost words back into the mouth and the mind’s eye.” ~ Robert Macfarlane (The Lost Words)
It will become a modern classic I have no doubt.
I wonder how many generations of children have spent hours immersed in the joy of playing conkers every autumn?
My dad used to help me and my brother rope them up when we were young, and my own children enthusiastically sifted through scrunchy leaves to find them buried beneath the boughs of local horse chestnut trees.
Conker was one of our favourite spells!
Gently blowing on dandelion seeds and watching them float away on the breeze across a field or garden is still a fun activity for my girls, as is making daisy chains.
The natural world in decline
It’s depressing to continually learn of the many natural habitats in decline across the globe, and the animal life that depend on such areas atrophying and becoming extinct through man’s insatiable devouring of our planet’s natural resources, (in many cases without thought or care for the consequences).
Now more than ever, it’s important to teach the next generations about the natural world: to admire its beauty, respect its status and understand its importance in the bigger picture of co-existence.
Where will the future natural world icons and champions like Sir David Attenborough, Steve Irwin and Gerald Durrell emerge from, if we don’t nurture a love of nature in young people?
The natural world is our home – we may live predominantly in the urban spaces that we have built, but nature provides an essential home for the animal kingdom, an oasis for outdoor activities, fresh air, rejuvenation, inspiration, the uplifting of spirits, and peace and quiet. Nature was created by a hand far greater than ours.
Why should dictionaries have the authority to imply that nature is no longer trendy and less important than human concerns? We cannot survive without it, either physically or emotionally. We need nature more than nature needs us.
Human fate is intertwined with the environment of the planet.
The rise of technology
We live in a world where we are increasingly controlled by our technological advancements and smartphone addiction, where children are turning into couch potatoes if allowed to play on phones and gadgets for hours on end.
Is technology worth such a drastic trade off? Not in my humble opinion.
Whilst there are benefits, it requires walking a fine line. If we lose control we are just storing up all kinds of problems for the decades ahead. Some areas of concern include: cyber bullying, child grooming, health issues, lack of hobbies and interests and reduced social skills, not to mention lack of presence or ‘being in the moment’.
We have a rule in the Burges household that no gadgets of any kind are allowed to be used during a family meal, a sacrosanct technology free zone.
Alarmingly, childhood obesity is on the rise, and the lack of outdoor activity and contact with soil, grass and plants reduces the diversity of children’s gut bacteria, which play a major role in human wellbeing, as does a lack of exercise and sedentary lifestyles.
In an innovative move, my daughters’ primary school introduced Forest School for all their pupils a year or so ago.
From the enthusiastic feedback my daughters provided, I could tell they enjoyed it, it seemed very popular with all the kids. I very much believe that if a connection with nature is established in a child’s formative years that it stays with them to some degree into adulthood.
I’m not a complete ogre though, I do let my children use technology, probably too much. It’s an integral part of modern life and they are very adept with it, but I have to be really strict with the amount of time they spend on their devices. It’s incredibly addictive.
Every contact with nature reinforces our connection with it, our co-dependency. I’ve noticed startling changes in just a generation. Cue old crone’s voice: when I was a wee lass, (many moons ago), we didn’t have mobile phones or tablets, so we used our imaginations and spent a lot of time outdoors.
It helped that we grew up in a rural area, and I remember vividly we would go exploring and take long walks. My parents didn’t seem to mind us disappearing for hours on end. There was a deserted farm house in the valley not far from where we lived, with holes in the floor, most likely unsafe, but we found it highly exciting to sneak in and venture tentatively into the rooms, keen to discover what lay inside.
We would climb trees, make dens, have picnics and sleep under the stars. Ah, those halcyon days! It wasn’t quite Swallows and Amazons, but if we’d had a boat and an island nearby I’m sure we would have set sail.
Please excuse me, while I bask for a moment in my self-induced nostalgia…
Kids that don’t have regular outings into a park or rural space are missing out on so many benefits. This is why this Robert Macfarlane’s and Jackie Morris’s beautiful book struck such a chord in me.
Also, it’s huge! We get lost in its glossy pages and because it’s a hardback book it feels weighty and solid.
We love immersing ourselves in its awe inducing spells and stunning pictures, our wonderment in nature reinvigorated with each reading.
After a recent reading of The Lost Words with my youngest, who was quite poorly all last week, she told me very clearly and precisely (even with a blocked nose and a fraction of her voice), that she much preferred living near the countryside than in a big city. I beamed at her.
If you buy the book you’ll be pleased to know that a proportion of the royalties from each copy of The Lost Words will be donated to Action for Conservation, a charity dedicated to inspiring young people take action for the natural world, and to the next generation of conservationists.
A free ‘Explorer’s Guide to The Lost Words‘, written by Eva John and intended especially (but not only) for use by teachers and educators, can be downloaded here.