I had to go up into the roof of our house the other day. It’s an old building and up there I had a fresh look at the timbers used to create the roof joists. And, of course, they were recycled timber. Wonderful old oak or elm, I guess, previously, perhaps more than 200 years ago, serving another purpose. That was in a time when materials were scarce or needed a lot of energy to make them usable: and we depended on nature to provide every aspect of our lives. An oak would take 100 years or more to reach maturity when it could be harvested to help build a house, a barn, a cart, a ship. And old timbers would live another life when that particular life came to an end, often turning into joists or beams in a house or barn. With that came a respect for what nature provided, a realisation that we were all part of the natural cycle, the seasons, the sowing and harvesting. If we abused that relationship it would go hard with us.
And it now goes hard with us.
We have to avoid sentimentalising our relationship with nature. It’s much more fundamental than that. We live on a tiny planet, a speck of dust in the infinity of the universe. Life here is only possible within really narrow tolerances. And we have forgotten that. Nature is now just an amenity, along with roads, air travel, entertainment, cheap clothes from some factory on the other side of the world. We all ‘love nature’ (and so much more during the lockdowns) but given the choice between a more convenient stretch of road, some more houses, even some much-needed sports facilities – well, nature has to take its place in the queue. And, too often, that’s at the back.
And, inevitably, it has now fought back. Our polluted air is killing people; our carbon emissions are taking us perilously close to a point of no return; many of our wild animals in the UK are under threat of extinction (globally it’s more than a million species, by the way).
So let’s start 2021 with a determination to return nature to the central role it must play in our lives if we are to leave a ‘green and pleasant land’ for our grandchildren. Let’s stop thinking that, so long as we don’t actively destroy nature, it’s OK – that we can ‘live and let live’ with nature. We now know it does not work like that. That’s one thing our ancestors certainly got right.
(Published in the February 2021 Cookham Parishioner)