The tiny, unconsidered things.
So here I am, sitting in a field somewhere in Northumberland, my back has gone out, I’ve had a mild yet very painful injury to one of my ribs, I’ve spent a wakeful, freezing night in my tent and I’m having the time of my life.
In the last two weeks I’ve seen a Marsh Harrier hunting over reed beds, listened to the insectile call of a Grasshopper Warbler, hunted anemones in rock pools and fossils under cliffs, I’ve walked over a hundred miles, stood in awe under the stars, listened to owls calling, skylarks singing, seen starfish and Brown Hares, Oystercatchers and Arctic Terns. This little island we live on is so beautiful it catches my breath.
I’m here making work for the AuTCRONE project. I’m gathering as much data as I can about the environment I am walking through, noting plants, birds, animals, insects and weather conditions. It’s been an incredible, overwhelming two weeks, with at least another 6 weeks (hopefully 10 weeks) to go. I’m keeping a diary every day, but one of the things I have found hardest is finding the words to write about the project, there is so much going on in my head and in my body.
The journey has become two things; Most importantly I’m gathering data for the AuTCRONE, but also I find I'm spending a lot of time thinking about the emotional/spiritual impact of being in nature every day. I defy anyone to come out here, especially at this time of teetering environmental breakdown and devastating change on Earth and not experience something of the numinous.
I’ve come here from Birmingham, a huge, dirty, noisy, frenetic city. To go from that to this peace and calmness is almost shocking and I was brought up in the countryside, so spending day after day surrounded by trees and greenness is like coming home for me.
Inevitably I suppose, during these days I have spent walking through some very beautiful landscapes I have found myself thinking about how I live and how I want to live. Even though I have only been out in nature for two weeks I can see the impact that humans are having on it. I remember a countryside teeming with insects, beetles, butterflies, hoverflies etc. On this trip I see insects mostly in singles, occasionally there might be groups of them, but rarely. I am seeing quite a lot of wildflowers, but not the diversity I would expect and regarding birdlife of course on the coasts they still seem to be here in good numbers, but in farmland, particularly arable farmland, there are very few. Many arable farms I have walked through are actually silent, there are no birds there.
So I don't want to go back to the city because I believe that the time to experience this beautiful landscape is limited. I really believe we have very few years left now. I want to be here, in this beauty for as long as I can. I'd give much to live in a tiny house somewhere, growing food, planting trees and living a very simple, frugal life. I've been wandering along thinking about secular monasticism, about a life lived in simplicity, a life lived in a way that supports rather than destroys the natural world. I dread the thought of going back to the city, to that grey, ugly place.
But this time is a call to arms for anyone who gives a damn about how we are going to live in the future and to every one who loves the natural world. So maybe I have to go back to Birmingham? Maybe I need to do more to fight for the nature that is on my grey, tarmacked doorstep? Maybe this time is a time of personal sacrifice, that I can't have the life I want, that maybe NONE of us should have the life we want, but accept a life that is best for nature and our planet?If I can't do it, how can I expect that anyone else should do it?
How can I make my voice heard way out here in the boondocks? I joined the protests when I was in Birmingham, but out here there is no one to see. This is really what the AuTCRONE project is attempting to highlight, the silent voice of nature, the disconnect between this teeming world of networked beings and the louder self-important human world; that the natural world has no voice where human decision making is concerned. It's only at the place where nature affects human that the majority of us pay attention.
That's not to say that no one cares. Look at the work that has been done recently to highlight the problems affecting the bee population, this has been marketed to the rest of us as a huge problem because of how it could affect our food production. At the same time the world's amphibians are also facing devastating losses, but is that talked about with the same urgency as the bees? It doesn't seem to have the same impact on us as crop failures caused by bee decline, but if course it does. All these distant, tiny, unseen, ignored beings are really giants, they are so important to our biosphere.
If frogs and beetles and bees and microbes matter so much to the health of our planet, and believe me, each and every one of those things does matter, how much do your actions matter too? How much do mine? Don't listen to the people who say this problem isn't up to ordinary people to fix. It is. Your choices matter, your politics matter, your garden matters, the food you eat matters. The tiny, quiet, unconsidered beings of this world matter and so do your tiny, individual actions.
Being out here, all I can do right now is bear witness to what is out here, gather as much data as I can and try to make my actions out here matter in a good way. It feels challenging though, it feels a bit of a stupid and hopeless thing to do some days. Then I have to remind myself that this is what the work is about; that AuTCRONE is a being in solidarity with other beings who feel they cannot speak, or who have no voice; the tiny, unconsidered beings whose lives can seem to pass in inconsequence, but who matter as much as anything ever has.