Covid 19 – Some describe this time by saying we’re all on the same sea but in different vessels.
Yes we’re all in this together, but with so many different outlooks. There is widespread compassion for the plight of those in struggle. But that compassion finds its limit for many when their residential area is inundated with record numbers of visitors, with the ensuing parking and litter problems. Small worries some may say, in the face of global crisis. But everyone’s experience is valid – its their truth.
So what happens if we take the buzzard’s (or kite’s – also newbies to the area) view? We may see that we live in a village, in an area with a dense population nearby. Bristol 12 miles to the North, Bath 9 miles east. I work in Greyfield Woods all year round and its usually virtually empty outside the bluebell months. Even then stepping off the main thoroughfare you can be alone. It seems to be my vocation to lift people up out of anxiety, depression and overwhelm, by building a deeper relationship with the outdoors. With Nature. We are Nature. The beauty, complexity and diversity of this place holds us in its arms and we receive its peace and strength; which is resilience. Biophilia describes the way we are drawn by biologically diverse places – intuitively knowing they are good for us.
When you look from the buzzard’s eye view you see not only the 100s of thousands of people dwelling in this region of low hills, estuary and rivers, but also the absence of trees. Greyfield Woods is one of the few large woodlands for miles around. To the south, you have to go to Stourhead environs to match it. To the west there is a commercial plantation at Priddy and the overlooked Chewton Woods at Farrington Gurney, plus commercial venues in woodland behind the airport. Hardly a beauty spot. And East you go beyond Bath for publicly accessible woods of this size.
If everyone in this region accessed the natural environment regularly in the way that health advice advocates and the research proves we should, the level of inundation that we see now at Greyfield would be normal. “Pah”, I hear you say, “as soon as sports centres and pubs are open again people will file that woodland walk neatly in the done folder and never darken the gates again.” Well the NHS plans to save billions in medical costs by keeping that experience alive, through green prescriptions, walking groups and horticultural therapy amongst other activities that can underpin a healthy lifestyle. And although it is an uphill struggle during the muddy winters like the one we just had (my waterproofs could tell you the stories if you’ve forgotten in the current drought) the woods really are a physical and mental buoyancy aid all year round.
What I am hearing from people who are discovering new paths and woodlands during lockdown is that they will return to these places. Once we know somewhere in the land that supports our wellbeing it becomes imprinted on our memory. There is a widespread yearning for this knowing of the land to return. Psychologist James Hillman once wrote, “of course I am in mourning for the land and water and my fellow beings. If this were not felt, I would be so defended and so in denial, so anaesthetised, I would be insane.”*
At this time we are collectively being opened to a lifting of the insanity and a healing of the alienation our post-industrial world embodies. And we see that we need more woods, more publicly accessible land where rivers flow and meadows sway. So we deal with the parking problems on our doorstep that make it unsafe for young children or impede access to and from our homes. And also let’s value our living landscape by supporting those organisations that protect it, voting for political parties that prioritise it, and make personal choices that commit to ending ecological degradation. DIY products, groceries, medicines and fuel are all connected to environmental impact. Choose our footprint and our legacy. Don’t be afraid to influence others too, with encouragement, by example, by being blatant about it.
And finally, be prepared for the major changes we need to embrace individually and collectively. The IPCC Special Report of 2019 was clear that we could change the trajectory that is sending us towards wipeout, and life would possibly be even better – clean air, safer roads and more success measurements linked to wellbeing and strong communities. But this is part of a major reconfiguration that we have to demand, not wait for it to arrive.
The large populations of this region that are spilling into the beauty spots of Northeast Somerset now are seeking relaxation; walks and picnics, stream splashing and sunbathing. If we don’t act on the science of climate change and instead choose the path of widescale societal collapse by default, the influx will be of people who are desperately seeking to meet their basic needs by any means. Bad parking will be a long forgotten inconvenience.
There are so many ways we have adapted and surprised ourselves in the recent months, nothing is beyond us. Keeping the buzzards’ and kite’s view in mind we can allow ourselves to be courageous in our imaginings of how adaptive we can be for a greener world. And if you don’t like the thought of driverless cars and working from home, solar farms and city trams, then do tell your alternative. Everyone’s vision is uniquely wonderful, and just like us, a uniquely important thread in the tapestry of the future.
* James Hillman; Depression and the Erosion of the Self in Late Modernity: The Lesson of Icarus