BY JOE NUTT
I have just walked half a mile along a quiet pavement in my local market town. The gusts of wind were strong enough to mean I actually had to make a small physical effort to resist each one as it hit, while sporadic, unpredictable rain drops struck my face hard enough to sting. It was trying hard, but failing to rain. I could see individual, glistening drops plummet in the spring sunlight in front of me, streaking occasionally in all directions except up; no two drops adopting the same downward angle.
While others drove blithely past in their cars, I felt both vitally alive and part of the natural world, a sensation Wordsworth, George Eliot and many other notable writers would have had no problem recognising. Previous generations would have readily used the word “quick” to describe the sensation. Yet it’s one I have no doubt is utterly alien to today’s climate change zealots.
When you feel attached to the natural world, intrinsically bound to it by even the simplest, every day demands it makes on your senses, it’s simply impossible to rise so far above it that you actually believe you can dictate what it should do. This is in essence the belief every climate change protestor, activist, campaigner and politician exhibits, when they demand you and I modify our physical presence in this world, to suit their superior beliefs.
Spending entire summers in South West France, which I was lucky enough to do for about a decade, I used to run for about 45 minutes first thing each morning, and one of my favourite routes took me through a local, visibly ancient wood. The only paths were narrow and I could actually feel dozens and dozens of invisible spiders’ webs stretched between the trees either side, pinging against my arms and legs as I ran through them. It was like running a Lilliputian gauntlet. Walking in an English wood, close to where I live today just a few weeks ago, I was struck by an abrupt change in the background noise I had up until then, which I’d not been paying much attention to. I stopped and stood still.
All around me I could hear nervous, excited bird chatter; not bird song but bird clamour. It came from every direction I turned towards, high pitched and panicky, a cacophony of ornithological alarm and anxiety. Suddenly, a huge brown shape swooped across my eyeline, barely six feet above the ground and almost within arms’ reach. It curved gracefully and soundlessly up into a nearby, leafless tree and perched, staring down at the woodland floor, and me. It was a beautifully imperious Buzzard. Now everything made sense. I just stood and admired it for a good few minutes before it decided I was obviously not worth admiring, and zig-zagged off through the trees.
Years ago, walking along the edge of a remote loch in the Orkney Isles, I almost stepped on an Otter who had obviously been snoozing in the summer sunshine, before I sent it walloping in a panic through the heather and into the loch. It disappeared immediately under the water, only to quickly resurface just a few metres out, turn on its back and look directly at me; happily treading water. We eyed each other for a while then it dived again and within a minute or two reappeared, a little further out, this time with a decent sized fish gripped between its jaws and front paws. It was still close enough for me to see the golden hue and deep red spots of what was clearly a wild, Brown Trout. I was carrying a fishing rod at the time and it felt like nature was smiling at me.
You don’t have to get caught swimming in a rip tide off the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a lifetime away from rescue; watch the sun setting over the empty lunarscape of the Badlands in South Dakota or scale K2 to feel “quick,” two out of three of which I’ve actually done.
They are of course, more difficult to articulate when, as so many people now are, you have been brought up in entirely urban circumstances, but even there you are never separated from nature. I worked for years in the City of London, the Square Mile that is, not the 607 miles of urban sprawl. One thing you notice is how the proliferation of tall buildings exaggerates the effect of the wind, and on one occasion I had to stagger into a shop and seek help when a powerful gust blew something so sharp into one of my eyes, I was completely blinded. The weirdest thing was that the pain and eye watering were so severe, I couldn’t use either eye. I was stranded, blinded and in agony in some kind of shop, trying to explain why I couldn’t open my eyes. A taxi trip to Moorfields Eye Hospital, mercifully only minutes away, solved the problem and I remember the doctor telling me my eyeball, “looked like someone had been skating on it.” The miniscule piece of blue plastic he showed me under a microscope, plus a vicious blast of wind, had been all that was necessary to render me physically incapable and utterly reliant on others’ kindness.
I’m sure I don’t have to identify individual writers or big name environmental campaigners to point out that when these people use the word nature, which they absolutely love doing, and frequently, we are not talking about the same thing. We are not even talking about the same planet. The one I live on, Earth, is indescribably bigger and more powerful than me. It has dynamics, processes and I suspect probably purposes I am not privy to, but in which I cannot avoid participating.
However amusing and silly that infamous, science fiction B movie cliché, Earthling is, it really is what I am. And no amount of hysterical pontificating, demanding or protesting about net zero, carbon neutrality or renewables from fellow Earthlings, will ever change that.
Joe Nutt is the author of five books, mostly about poetry and as an essayist he writes regularly for a number of magazines.