Friday, October 26, 2007

Seeds of Hope

from Jacqueline

I’ve always been interested in synchronicity, that bringing together of people, events and thoughts that make us wonder if we’ve been zapped by some sort of divine intervention. In the last few weeks I’ve been reminded – not least by the fires that have gone through southern California like the Furies – of the way in which we can experience so much that we hold dear being taken away from us, only to see the miracle – and it is a miracle – of regeneration. If we give it time.

Three weeks ago I was in France, walking the Somme Valley. During the First World War the towns and villages of the region were flattened. Much-loved woodland was decimated. There was nothing but rubble, trenches and shell-holes – and I mean really, really big shell-holes. Yet there I was, standing on a hill looking out at abundant cornfields and, in the distance, villages built in the years following the war. And not only were those villages rebuilt, but using remaining foundations, local memory and old photographs, they were constructed in the image of that which was lost.

Something about that regrowth, that regeneration, points to the resilience of the human spirit and the hope that nature demonstrates, simply by showing up again, year after year.

Twenty years ago, on the night of October 15th 1987, I was woken up by the sound of the wind screeching outside and around the house. Now, living in Britain, you get pretty used to “weather” – but this was something different. With winds up to 100 knots and devastation throughout the southern part of the island in particular, it became known as The Great Storm of 1987. Nineteen people died and fifteen million trees were blown down, wiping out ancient forests. Houses were flattened. In a way it was a blessing that it began at night, otherwise there might have been more fatalities. At the time I was having a conservatory built at the back of the house, and the builders had left the many panes of glass leaning against the fence. All I could hear all night was glass crashing across the garden. My friend’s chimney came down through her roof and the next day you couldn’t get anywhere for the trees across the road. Boats moored in a marina ended up three miles or so inland. I remember driving down to see my parents as soon as I could after the hurricane – yes, that’s what it was, a hurricane in little old England – and the sense of grief that enveloped me as I passed the forest where I had played as a child. There was nothing left.

But people and nature got to work ...

And time marches on ....

That's Chartwell, Winston Churchill's home in Kent. After the storm, and now.

Just eight years later, in 1995, I rode my horse up onto a hill in Marin County to look at the Point Reyes “Vision” Fire in the distance. Acres and acres of trees burning – and we were all wondering which way the wind would turn the fire, and counted ourselves lucky when it pushed it towards the coast, and not inland. Six months later I went hiking in the area and could see, already, small green shoots at the base of charcoal-blackened tree stumps. Strong old bird, Mother Nature.

And here we are again, Fire, Fire Fire – as so eloquently described by Our Paul on Tuesday. But we are part of nature, so amid the grief of loss, and the shattering of confidence, we know that life goes on. It has to. And even if we are with the naysayers who have their heads in the sand and would prefer not to give an ounce of time to the issue of global warming, it might behoove us to do all that we can to help nature out now – unless you’ve really got your heart set on that ocean-front property in Greenland. Even though fire in California is a naturally occurring phenomenon - there are seeds that will only germinate under the intense heat caused by fire - if you add the recent unusual weather activity and “natural” disasters around the world, I don’t think nature could be yelling much louder for our help.

And before I go, here’s a poem by Carl Sandburg. Even though it is about war, it could be about any disaster. It seems to speak to the work that nature does to cover our most dreadful errors:


Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo,
Shovel them under and let me work--
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass.
Let me work

And from me – here’s wishing you a happy and safe weekend.


  1. Beautiful post, Jackie.

    Yes, we should let the grass work. But we should not let its soft green blanket let us forget.

  2. Jackie,
    I get the same feeling going through southern dade county where, in 1992, hurricane Andrew blew down anything higher than five feet.

    Great post.


  3. Yellowstone.

  4. Such eloquent writing, Our J. Several years after the great Alaska earthquake, I visited an area outside of Anchorage where the ground had buckled dramatically. You could barely tell, however, because new plants and trees had covered the scars. Time heals all wounds. Or not...

    I love Sandburg's work.

  5. Sandburg isn't the only one writing poetry. Beautiful post, Jackie.

    Just as it did with Jim Born, today's message made me think of Miami in August 1992. All those flattened trees along Old Cutler Road.

    The lead story in The Miami Herald began, "There is simply too much sky."

    Darn good sentence. Clean. Simple. True.

    Lots of sunshine and abundant rain made the area bloom more quickly than any of us thought possible. Rebuilding neighborhoods took much longer.

    Yes, indeed. Grass trumps bricks.

    The Earth will outlast us all.

  6. from Jacqueline

    Thank you all for your responses - and yes, there are so many more I could have mentioned, so thank you for adding significant events etched on your memories. My mother and father feel the same way about London - newly married, they left a city of bomb craters in 1949, to live in the country. I remember going back to see relatives in the city, and seeing bombsites still there, amid a rush of construction - unfortunately, it was the 1960's when the "f-you school of architecture" was having its way with the landscape.

  7. from Jacqueline

    And Paul, I love the comment about "too much sky." That's exactly how it was after the storm of 1987 - way too much sky.

  8. This was a wonderful post, Our J. It's good to know things grow back. The site of the Oakland fire up here still feels so bare, but the photos of Chartwell are truly encouraging.

  9. And snow, too covers all. I wonder if anyone ever wrote a poem about the first Winter after the WWI Armistice. Snow as a blanket. Water ready to charge up the ground to grow green things....

    But... as a Californian watching the SoCal fire news, for Winter, I think more of Winter rains, straw in bales and big netted rolls for erosion control, mudslides with cars embedded like raisins in a pudding... Demob and mop up after fires...

  10. Alice, thank you for that reflection on snow, and water - with a bit of luck there will be plenty of the latter to moisten our drought this winter. But as you point out, it will bring its own kettle of fish to contend with - the landslides, the floods, the roads washed out. And for those of us with a roof over our heads and a fire in the grate - let us give thanks, and perhaps offer a donation for those less fortunate.

  11. Jackie,
    I think it's the earth's power to endure that so astounds me. The new life that affirms something larger than destruction.

    I've got to be honest; the whole global warming issue distresses me because it shakes my faith in our planet's ability to heal.


    Still your post brought a welcome whiff of reaffirmation . . .

    thank you.

  12. Pari, lovely to hear from you, and thank you for your comment. I fear for the planet as you do, and though I think this earth has a deep well of resilience, there is only so far you can push things - and we have pushed far enough already. In truth, it was probably pushed too far by the end of the industrial revolution. Still, it is always reaffirming to see those shoots coming up in spring, and new life push through following a disaster such as fire or flood.