This morning, I took the dog further than usual. Walk extended so she was happy.
We went across the fields to the tree. The special tree. My tree. And Jo’s (my wife). We share it. Like many things.
Why is it special? Don’t know really. Just is.
We have walked to it and past it for years. We always liked it. It made us smile. Made us feel safe. Something about its position – alone atop a small rise. It seemed to be guarding us somehow. Standing watch. Sentinel.
We took other people there and said, “Look at the tree. Isn’t it wonderful?” They didn’t share our enthusiasm. To them it was just another tree. So, we decided that it was our tree. Special to us.
Some years ago, we started paying it more attention. When we reached the tree, we paused. Looked more closely. Inspected its crevices and hollows. Gazed up into its branches. Felt its rough bark. We were able to categorize – “It’s an oak tree.” That didn’t seem to add much. It was more than an oak tree. It was our tree. It’s genus was neither here nor there. It was its character that was important. Its personality. We had never thought of trees as having individual personalities before. But, if you spend enough time in their company, you will realise that they do. It was at this point that we realised that we were forming a relationship with this tree.
Now we started to incorporate little rituals into our visits to the tree. Upon arrival, we circled the tree. Three times. Anti-clockwise. Nobody told us to do this. We are not part of some arcane tree worshipping cult. We just did it. And we both felt that the tree liked it. So we did it some more.
Then, we began to take little gifts to give the tree. Offerings. Nuts. Grains. Berries. This morning it was a dog biscuit because I had not set out to go to the tree. I had just experienced a strong desire to do so part way down our usual track. So, I was not prepared. I could only offer what I had on me. Dog biscuits. The tree seemed happy enough. The offerings aren’t given in exchange for anything in particular. It’s not like we are praying to the tree or asking it for anything. We just like the tree. The offerings are just expressions of our love. Like taking a small gift when you visit a friend.
We think of the tree as a friend now. It has taken time. Several years. Things progress slowly with trees. That is one of the things that I like most about them. Trees live on a different time scale to humans. Some of the oldest living things on the planet are trees. There are trees alive now that have seen major civilisations rise and fall. Trees see the bigger picture. Trees do not get bogged down in minor details. They have a sense of perspective.
Lack of perspective seems to be a major problem for humanity at the moment. We seem to have a frightening ability to obsess on the transitory and trivial whilst ignoring what is actually significant. For example, here in the UK, the Government’s main concerns at the moment appear to be the economy and immigration. At least this appears to be the case if you consult the UK media. There is very little time or space given to discussion of climate change and its consequences. The message seems to be that we can deal with climate change once we have got the economy and immigration under control.
Now, this, to me, is a problem of perspective. Which is the bigger problem – climate change, the economy or immigration? Which one subsumes the other two? Which one affects the other two most dramatically?
Cutting the deficit. Getting the economy back on track. Will not have any effect on climate change. Except possibly in a negative way as the current model of economic success encourages growth, which encourages consumption, which uses up resources and increases emissions, which increase the speed of climate change.
Controlling immigration will have no effect on climate change.
But, if climate change goes on unchecked, it will put major strains on the economy. We are already feeling the cost of flood defences, destructive storms and more common extreme weather events. What happens when changes in climate lead to crop failures? Food shortages. Fuel shortages. Power cuts. Not enough water to go round. Here in the UK,we have lost our sense of how reliant we are upon a stable climate for food, water, light, warmth. Most of us no longer grow our own food. We buy it in shops. We no longer have to make any effort to have fresh water. We turn a tap. We don’t have to gather wood to light a fire. The central heating comes on. Automatically. Light comes at the flick of a switch. We have lost any real sense of the value of fresh food, clean water, fuel. We take it for granted. Waste so much. We live in a world of illusion, distorting mirrors. Detached from Nature. Detached from reality. No sense of true perspective. We have lived so long in a hall of mirrors that we no longer know what is real.
Soil is real. Dirt is real. Earth is real.
Earth. Wood. Rock. Water. Fire. Wind. Sun.
Money is not real. Borders are not real. They are constructs. Creations. Made by mankind out of thin air and nothingness. Animals do not see them. Plants do not acknowledge them. Because they are illusions. No other living thing apart from humans can see money. A dog sees something to chew. But it doesn’t taste of much. A mouse sees the makings of a nest. I doubt whether a lion has the faintest notion that it even exists. They are able to live well without it.
But, if the climate fails, goes awry. The dog, the mouse, the lion will feel its impact. As will we. And, as the climate changes and fertile lands become deserts, people will move. Move to lands where water still flows, where crops can be grown, where you can live. The movement will not be immigration. It will be migration. It will be war.
So, as a matter of perspective, we have to deal with climate change first. It is the bigger issue. But, perhaps because it is too big an issue, governments all over the world are failing to do so. I fear that governments as they are presently constituted will always fail to do so. The present system operates by a system of opposition, competition. Two or three parties compete against each other for our votes. For power. They define themselves against each other. They spend much time shouting about why the other parties are wrong. Belittling each other. Scoring points. It is not a grown up way to carry on. There is a lot of name calling and back biting. Infantile behaviour. How can we expect those who spend their lives in such a system to cooperate in order to confront the very major problem of climate change? Because climate change is a planetary issue. It demands cooperation. Between nations. Between parties. It is not about who is in power. The planet does not care. Neither is it about the free market. We cannot expect business to solve the problem. The energy companies do not exist to solve our crisis of power. They exist to make a profit. But the planet does not care about their profit or loss. Nature’s bottom line is far more brutal. If we continue to abuse the planet. To take without consideration or concern. Then the planet will demand a heavy price. So, get some perspective.
Which takes me back to trees. I like to spend time with trees because I feel that they have a sense of perspective. And they help me to recover my own. Which comforts me. Grounds me. Makes me feel safe. I look up into the branches of trees and the sheer beauty of its stark architecture awes me. It is that sense of awe that is so valuable. Awe scours ego. Reminds me how small and insignificant I am. Reminds me that,whilst I am nothing alone, I too am a part of this beautiful world. If I surrender my sense of self, accept my connectedness to Nature, I can share its glory. If we are to deal with climate change, we, as a species, need to begin by feeling once again this sense of awe. We need to reconnect with Nature. To lose our arrogant conviction that we are more important. That our needs take precedence. We need to see ourselves as merely a small part of a greater whole. We need to adopt an attitude of service. We need to see our place with a truer sense of perspective.
We need to look up into the trees.