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.