The Wilderness

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Terra-UK is one of the most densely populated land areas in the world. The concept of wilderness seems overly ambitious here upon our heavily burdened soils. We are sold as such a well-groomed and culturally domesticated species, at least in public, and it’s way too fashionable to tame our surroundings to a sparkling manicure. We even wash our soils down with pesticides to scrub away the wild. Every last square inch of land is property ~ accounted for and stewarded. Markets induce us to gaze upon all through neoliberal-tinted specs. Always questions of economic materialism… how does this land earn its keep? For how much will it eventually sell? How much can we pay each other for the servitude of non-human life in our stewardship? Earth is bounded and fenced, like our own mortal souls. Some now legitimately question whether there is any wilderness left at all.

Men, more often than not, have influenced the form and patterns assumed of wilderness. Women’s thoughts are less frequently aired. The why’s and the wherefore’s aside, this should never have been so. More briefly, I offer my own interpretations, and I would invite more women to contribute.

In my country, wild kin have learned to be afraid of me, and with good reason. As friendly as I try to be, my physical form represents danger and threat. The British countryside has not been sanctuary for non-human life. Huge declines in wildlife populations, extinctions and extirpations silently scream of the havoc we have caused, and significantly in the last few decades. We’ve halved the numbers of native vertebrates. Invertebrate biodiversity has plummeted. Traumas are inherited, a genetic overspill of shock, from one generation to another. Human dominion has spawned multiple genetic threads of fear and distrust. It would take much to win back this trust, especially as it may never have entirely existed. There are a rare few who gain the confidence of our non-human kin, and in their kindnesses, they are blessed and ought to be celebrated.

I do think there are remnants of wilderness, but at multiple scales. To a Violet Oil Beetle, the woodland glade is truly vast. To a Wandering Albatross, the Southern Ocean is just big enough. We have imaginations to envisage degrees of relativity. For me, wilderness is more a mental state ~ to feel wild is to experience and imagine, a complex matrix of perceived belonging (or a perception of loss). No matter what scale it presents itself, wilderness is where I come home, not somewhere I glance a visit. Moreover, my moral community extends way beyond the human, so non-humans are my kin ~ storge-love at its most tender and powerful.

There are several false premises when it comes to word-fusing “wilderness.” Some perceive it is a place inherently untouched by human hand. Yet science informs us that the Anthropocene touches all by a layer of our own techno-fossils and radionuclides. Go back. Wilderness is all about non-human life and we are outlanders? How can this be so, when we share the Earth with all biota. We are part of nature, not separate. Our presence in the wilderness ~ ourselves being wilder ~ means we can never truly be strangers. Go back.

Beasts who dwell in the wild are angry and hostile. If we dare to step deep into their realms, we become victims ~ so we mentally retaliate, sometimes before we even arrive. These thoughts manifest in all manner of ways, from the hunter’s gun to the conservator’s axe. Go in, but go prepared, SAS-style. In the Canadian Rockies or the oceans off South Africa, I realise I am more exposed to the brutalities of the food chains. But if I use all my senses, and move with a pace and frame befitting a respect for my kin, I can truly feel alive. It becomes a question of adopted endemism, a life’s process and no instant knowing, guided and mentored by skilful others one trusts and loves. There’s no war in an angry grizzly separated from her cubs, or a venomous snake simply protecting his life. Wild things are not our enemies. They are simply surviving. So we need to act with respect and care in this shared dwelling ~ the biosphere. They teach us natural boundaries, respect in all we do. Indigenous humans know this with intimacy and their culture is crafted in the skills of living (and dying). I guess they learned the hard way. All must do the same. Go back.

Finally, the wilderness is depicted as an otherwise barren place, a neglected sphere of empty desolation. It’s where we can all go, to test ourselves, to take our medicine, to seek mental victories, or fail and find our limits. Jesus went to fight temptation. But the wilderness is a dynamic and complex community first, billions of years in the making. Wild lives are interconnected, from the microbes and mycelium to the kauri trees and blue whales. Belonging is vital, and from which all flows. Learning to understand its languages, natural laws and song, Earth’s opus, is perhaps integral to something bigger than the sum of all parts ~ the Ghedeist. Yes, there is danger, doom and even death. But there is also light, as in life. Individuals matter, fluminism between all a process worthy of fierce protection. Go to the wild and you are never alone. There you will find, implicit in existence, rapturous life, passionate love, and all kinds ways to die. A wild death ~ the biological penumbra to the light-eclipse of being. The dead give life to others. Love and trauma are dihedrals in space-time ~ life begets life, yet all things pass. Far from being systems of aimless chaos, wilderness, in the individual, species biodiversity and interconnectedness, maintains a dignity and a grace.

A premise close to my own truth is that the wilderness has an aesthetic (or many), which transcends rationality. It is certainly more than ‘ease on the eye’. This truth is not that seen by an outsider ~ the painter, photographer or even poet. Their own work may be beautiful, but the truth of wilderness, instead, is the affection perceived by the lion of his pride or the pika of her purple willow herb. It is the sunlight reflected in a man’s eye as he watches his daughter climb a tree. It is the totality of the dynamic function of the living community and a pure ecophony of home.

To me, our engineered constructions are largely alien to the majority of our kin. There are some survivors, adapters, and even they are persecuted for their success, as pests. Perhaps, if the wild things truly joined us, the cities would crack under the weight of all, and those processes lost to concrete and tar would surface again and all will be well. The anarchy of love may bubble up in the same way.

But to be truly free is the choice to set one’s own limits. You can be wild and self-disciplined. I have experienced fractured moments of a feeling of freedom at certain points in life, basking on the rocks beside the River Wye in high Summer until I choose to leave, or feeling the lift from my paragliding canopy, pulling me high above the Black Mountains until I decide when and where to land. More importantly, I try to act with care, the consequences of my actions assessed for any future adjustments necessary. In real terms, my freedoms have been more of a fleeting emotion than of clear rationality. Mostly, I feel I am a good girl who should stick to the rules, but I do trespass in libertarian forays through wilder corners and canyons. To be wild these days requires a free heart and a very determined mind, but I do so wish there were fewer fences.

Back in Terra-UK, the greater our number, the greater pressure on remaining acreage to supply our needs, and the competition is fierce to possess and steward. The greater our number, the heavier the weight of Law presses down. Our innate freedoms are contained by order, the concession we make for a quieter, less violent life. In law abiding adhesiveness, society is managed and said to progress. But The Law is just another human construct, socially and politically malleable, some might even say culturally arbitrary, and not always founded upon morality or natural justice.

There’s a self governance to the wilderness which is laudable, and I think we need to participate. We can curtail our greed and limit our numbers. Above all, we may return to this mental state to find our kin and earn their trust. There is truth in our belonging ~ a beautiful Ghedeistual love. And, what’s more, I dare to call the wilderness my home.

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Planet Valens

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Oh, the vicissitude of this day as a celebration of love!

From its early roots in paganistic fertility, to the pious diktats of the early Roman Catholic Church and, now, the tacky displays of chocolates and roses in every supermarket, why should we celebrate Valentines at all on 14th February? I adore chocolate (the darker the better), but in all seriousness, for me it is all about the ‘birds and the bees.’

The unofficial Celebrare began, some say, with Julius Caesar reviving an already ancient festival of Lupercalia on the 15th Feburuary, borne from the legend of the great she-wolf, Lupus, suckling the infants Romulus and Remus, eventual founders of Rome. Lupercalia was a time for animal sacrifice, eating and dancing merrily, as well as, according to Plutarch, a day when “many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs.” Women deliberately stood in front of these wilder officiates and, if struck, could look forward to fruitful coitus and a swift labour.

The early Roman Catholics, of course, wished to substitute such debauchery with a more wholesome, puritanical alternative. Pope Gelasius I, in 496, dedicated the 14th day of February to a martyred priest, perhaps he was a bishop, a man very little known even then and we are still none the wiser today. He is said to have married Christian couples at a time when it was against the law, and was imprisoned for refusing to sacrifice to Pagan gods. The legend is that Valentine, through his prayers, healed his jailer’s blind daughter. In a more lasting version of the story, on the day of his execution, he left her a note signed “Your Valentine,” before coming to a very brutal end. The more romantic of us might believe that he fell madly in love with her and gave her a crocus flower as a symbol of his affection. These first flowers of spring are often the first forage of honey bees…St Valentine is also the patron Saint of Bee Keeping! None-the-less, with so little factual evidence of his life, the Roman Catholic Church decided to delete commemoration of him from the Calendarium Romanum in 1969, although he remained on the calendars of local diocese.

Today, to be honest, I choose neither to be struck by a shaggy thong nor to succumb to the growth aspirations of the Board of Tesco. Neither will I be going anywhere near a Church. Instead, I’ll enjoy what I love in the truest sense, the life on this planet for its own sake and, why not, the erotic nature of all that springs in Spring ~ a crucial time in the river of life! I think I’ll sit with the coo-ing doves by the Ely and read again The Parliament of Fowls by Chaucer. The 14th (or the 15th), February is my time to celebrate a phenology, a seasonality, when the birds pick their mates, the bees find their crocuses, and the lengthening days bring me light and joy. In latin, valens means strong, vigorous and healthy. Tonight, I will also dream of life on Planet Valens, of earth and all its interconnected life, the fluminism and all whom I dearly love.

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Radical

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In Australia, a heat tsunami is breaking every record in the book, killing human and non-human life, crippling farmland, livestock and produce, whilst threatening more in the form of unstoppable, slaughterous wild fires.

Meanwhile, in an air conditioned building on Capital Hill, Canberra, a public servant, whilst purporting to act in the people’s best interests, mocked the very foundations of life itself.

Scott Morrison (remember his name), waved a large lump of coal around at Question Time last Thursday. With a smirk and fully conscious nod to the mining conglomerates, with their generous party donations, he proclaimed,

“This is coal  — don’t be afraid, don’t be scared…”

This is the Treasurer of the 13th largest economy on Earth.* Unlucky.

Greed and stupidity are monumentally symbolised in perpetuity.

Such greed and stupidity are not uncommon in the most highly developed and ‘educated’ nations on Earth. Here in the United Kingdom, ranked 5th largest economy,* BBC Scotland heralded the opening of a £180 million Oil and Gas Technology Centre, a new research and development enterprise opened in Aberdeen to help “breathe new life,” into the struggling North Sea oil industry. Not a breath of irony. Oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood, Aberdeen and Robert Gordon Universities and Aberdeen’s local government, are all in hearty support of this relentless neoliberal quest to unlock 3 billion gallons of oil in small reserves, to halve the cost of drilling for new supplies, and duplicitously, become a world leader in decommissioning leviathan rigs for profit.

Meanwhile, President Trump’s latest order is for the DAPL Pipeline to forge ahead, as if Commander of Chief is in full military theatre against the first nationers. The US skids back to the Wild West. Bill McKibben’s vital piece in the New Yorker explains the deep shame. Trump is the leader of largest economy in the world, moreover the so-called free-world.  He and all who support him, are no less than an affront to life on this planet as we know it.

President Xi Jinping of China, leader of the subjugated world and 2nd largest economy,* heinously attacks human rights protestors, whilst simultaneously leading the way on transition to renewable energy. What’s more, the Government have this week announced massive changes in official regulations to prevent development for the sake of functioning ecosystems. This is big news, yet most (but not all), leaders in the West are blinded by the bright gas-guzzling headlights of GDP growth and simply have no clue.

The human world turns on its head. And the rest can swing for it.

Arctic sea ice in winter is now lower in mass than it was in 1980s summers, the North Pole a full 10 degrees celcius warmer than average. Sea levels are visibly rising, everywhere. Acidification by carbon saturation is killing coral reefs and anything with a shell…integral parts of the ocean food chains are now breaking. Alongside the prospect of world nuclear armageddon, this is human self-combustion at its worst. And we are going to take billions of other lives with us if we continue on this foolish trajectory. As each day passes, more radical solutions are necessary to slow the rates of destruction. Radical. How radical must we now go?

* (GDP (Nominal) World Ranking 2016 Statistics Times)

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Summimbers

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Fluminism as an Environmental Ethic.

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Ginny Battson © 2017

I recently presented Fluminism as understanding of the interconnected universal narrative ~ there is flow to and from all dimensions, including ones we are yet to understand. The complexity is endless, the minutiae beautiful.

To be a Fluminist involves not only understanding and acceptance, but promotion of it as a consequentialist environmental ethic, whereby actions contribute to continuation of dynamic flows of interconnectedness, to nurture them and to protect them towards a mutual end, whereby all life has opportunity to flourish, rather than to harm or prevent.

Consequentialism ~ that morality of action be judged solely by consequences.

The consequences of Fluminism are good, in that the universal narrative is one of parity with a biosphere conducive to the flourishing of intrinsically valuable, existential life. In this way, the moral community extends deep beyond the human, and yet the value of empiricism is maintained (despite what we do not yet understand and what may always remain a mystery).

For example, the allowance of primary and secondary succession, plus the planting of indigenous vegetation, equates to Fluministic action, in that woodland ecological interconnectedness is nurtured through time and space, and for constituative individuals to flourish within the spectrum of their usual, self-willed life patterns (food chains et al). To actively prevent all succession and planting by soil-sealing (e.g. concreting), is the opposite.

Long-term or permanent breaks in the flow are destructive, and the accumulation of many breaks, or stops, becomes detrimental to the existence of life in the form of tipping points. Examples are many, generated largely within the sphere of unsustainable human development, anthropogenic climate change, pesticide use, socio-political and economic doctrines promoting unlimited growth, inequality, and so forth. The moral alternative is active Fluminism.

However, there may be pauses that are Fluministic, in that they may appear to prevent flow, such as ‘natural disasters,’ but which are temporary or cyclical (e.g. volcanism), in time and space. Another example is the cultivation of land for food, but only where there is an integrated effort to nurture the dynamic flows of non-human life alongside (e.g. permaculture), the success of which may be assessed empirically.

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Fluminism

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Ginny Battson © 2017

Like Heraclitus, I learn from rivers. In all things, I perceive flow.

I am not writing of Eastern notions of being present in the zone. Instead, I write of the interconnectedness of all, in the flows of the elements, of water, geology, relationships, true love, time, tides, place, trophic cascades, air, dynamism, weather, music, biodiversity, universes, entropy and enthalpy…

Like circles, like breath.

genitive plural of flūmen ~ fluminum
genitive case is one that expresses possession or relation, equivalent to the English ‘of’

Of the merging of subterranean mycelium. Of rivers and riverlike confluences (riversmeets).

I introduce the word Fluminism: the interconnected narrative of universe, there is flow to and from all dimensions, including ones we are yet to understand. The complexity is endless, the minutiae beautiful.

I am a Fluminist.

 

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Dancing Hawk, thank you (Buteo buteo)

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Buteo buteo, the Eurasian Buzzard, is a bird of the edge lands, of magic. She launches from her thick twig-nest in high, forked branches to glide on a trajectory to rabbit-grazed meadow. She is a perfect shadow in the wood, yet casts her own deep shadow on grass. Beware the unwary. On sunny days, I see her circling high above the apple orchards, and I call to her in meows like a kitten. She will call back.

She can be solitary. She can be social. Her dual life and her love of warm, thermal updrafts, are not unlike my own. Occasionally, I see exploding pigeons above the steep croft, and I know she will feed her chicks this day. Thank goodness for generalists.

~~~

Buzzards are of Least Concern across their massive range, according to the IUCN. I am, none-the-less, concerned.

British mainland birds are resident, often persecuted and vulnerable to the selfish wants of some humans, as all animals are. Their trees are brutally stolen, their hunting grounds siezed and built upon. They eat lead shot, especially around game shoots, attracted by fresh blood and slaughtered carrion. And they themselves are shot. This hate weighs heavy on the hearts of those who care.

But these remarkable birds, undisturbed, know their deep, broad volumes of place as intimately as I know my kitchen cupboards. They understand a daily rhythm and I have found them to be wise. When the new, red kites come, they simply soar their sky, and all is somehow calm. I have always watched them with childish wonder. They are raptors of majesty, keen foragers and navigators. They are birds of pride.

Buzzards of the northern, colder parallels migrate vast distances to Africa and India, mustering in huge flocks at isthmuses and upon ridges. I have never seen these gatherings. They must be glorious and intelligent. One day I would like to find them, and watch them.

Meanwhile, here in Wales, with each local journey I make, I count them on the telegraph poles. I look high in the sky for rounded wing tips and fan tails. I admire their underwings as one would admire paintings, the blackish edge forming frames around their flight. They are an array of browny, alabaster and cream. If you are lucky to be close, they are sometimes red. When our star falls of an evening, a buzzard underwing can glow like an amethyst.

~~~

On open walks, I love how she looks at me, sharp, with sparkling eyes as she soars overhead. In the woods, on a branch, she defecates in disgust at my intrusion ~ tail up. Projectile and white! Then dives and glides to escape my gaze.

All the while, I love her families ~ the tense love-making, fluff-babes, the fledglings hopping about the tree tops, the juveniles, round-shouldered and elbowed on the hawthorn tops. But it is on the farmers’ ploughed and worked ground where she truly entertains me. I need this laughter. She transforms into a “dancing hawk”, along with others in rows, asserting her personal space with metre-wingspans of mud. I imagine the tune, as she hunts the small things, soft worms and shiny beetles.

I am smiling. That she makes me smile is invaluable to me. Thank you, buzzard, for all you are and all you do.

~~~

Biking Buzzard ~ my poem about a special encounter, at Mesmerising Moments, a site hosted by the wonderful Karen Wilde.

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Guest Blog – The Hunt, by Ros Farrell

Ros is a horse and wildlife artist, and also my older sister. She spoke to me recently of her first and only experience of attending The Hunt as a young girl, and I asked her to write the story down. She kindly obliged.

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I must have been eight or nine years old when my parents organised for me to go another step on my little horse journey.  Up until this point, it had all been very informal and simply involved me connecting with them, loving them and riding our ponies.  I had entered a gymkhana too, I think, but nothing serious at all.  I’m not entirely sure how it came about, but it was decided amongst us that a Hunt would be the next step.  Mum took me along to the ‘Horse Boutique,’ to buy clothes especially for the event. I was fitted with the most lovely tweed jacket, new jodhpurs, brand new riding boots and a riding hat.  It was quite a day out. I had been used to wearing a shirt/blouse and jeans! I remember there being gasps about the price of things, and how smart I looked in the get-up.  I remember the smell of the shop ~ new leather saddles, riding boots, and brand new clothes.

My pony wasn’t going to be able to attend the Hunt.  Did you know that you can rent ponies and horses? We rented a pony for one day’s Hunt, one that was experienced in hunting from a local trekking centre. I had never met this pony before, so… here we are on the day meeting at the ‘Meet’ outside an Old English Pub on the Heritage Trail, a beautiful black and white timber village, for the very first time.  He was just right for my height but seemed very revved and overly excited.   There were lots of adults about on horseback, dressed formally in Red and Navy Jackets, all sitting very correctly and gathering outside the pub. Many cars drew up, as well as the substantial group of horse riders; the atmosphere was more serious than I had anticipated.

This was the beginning of what turned out to be a very poignant experience for me, one which has stayed vividly in my memory for all this time. I am now in my late fifties.  These were different times, of course. Few even questioned this type of country pursuit – it was also legal then.  It is actually illegal in the UK now, though you would never think so.

The Hounds were present, the Horses and Riders in plenty, it was Winter and we set off.  We walked-on out of the village and then entered the fields. I lost sight of my parents, who were following The Hunt in the car, along with others. My little rented pony was so excited and I found him difficult to ride. He was very strong indeed – he only seemed content in canter or gallop and, in his keenness, he refused to walk or trot.  My initial enthusiasm began to wane slightly because of it. Things were much more difficult than I had thought.  Then came the gates to negotiate and the hedges, – over which he flew. I had only ever jumped over small barrels with planks in between, never anything like this, so I held on and rode as best as I could. I do remember feeling nervous, not least because I realised at this point, my pony was taking me, and not me taking him. My cousin – a teenager by this time, was on the Hunt too.  She called over for me not to get ahead of the Masters of the Hunt, as it was considered to be bad form.   I had no idea who was ahead or who was behind. By this time, I was holding on for dear life!

I struggled to bring my reins in, but tried my very best.  We rode for miles along ploughed fields, heavy, wet, cold and claggy soils, and jumped the hedges and fences to eventually reach a small country aerodrome. I remember feeling what I now recognise as exhaustion. This was not a fun day! It was a trial. No-one was smiling. No-one looked happy. This was a serious ‘Hunt’. I watched, heard and felt the men as to be formal, dour and authoritative. But I suddenly became aware that the mood and atmosphere had changed again.  The speed quickened as all of us began galloping down the runway, chasing a fox just ahead of us.  That sudden change in atmosphere was the ‘blood lust’. I looked at the scene ahead, the sight of a beautiful fox running for its life, the horses and hounds now flat out. The atmosphere of this blood lust was sickening.

I have never forgotten it. I didn’t like it. My awareness had come home to me.  A light bulb had switched on within me; an epiphany.  I realised what we were actually doing. A fox was about to be killed, ripped apart by the hounds.

I truly cannot tell you how, but I must have slowed my pony down as they all continued. My father appeared from nowhere. I could not speak to express my feelings and burst into tears. He quietly took the reins, looked deep into my eyes, with assurances all was fine. He told me we would walk back to the pub along the country lanes, just the two of us and the pony. Dad held my hand as I sobbed with a broken heart, his other hand holding my ‘wild’ pony walking gently beside us until, eventually, we found our way back to the horse trailers and the cars beside the pub. We had left The Hunt and silently walked for miles. I had cried myself out. Dad never questioned me and it was never brought up again. He just assured me all would be well, and I was never asked to go again.

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Emily Dickinson ~ After great pain, a formal feeling comes

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Bruno Walpoth (click photo for website)

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

~~~~~~~~~~~

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The Potency of Hope

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I shared an article via social media recently, one of many I read on the tangible impacts of climate change borne witness by earth scientists. In a sense, it does not matter which article, but here it is, for those interested. It isn’t good news… brutal, in fact. So I felt the necessity to counter any despair and anger generated, at least to those who comprehend the full gravity and consequence, especially if little action to adapt and mitigate is immediately apparent.

Hope.

My father showed me the ultimate value of hope in the Hospice, a place of sanctuary where he spent his last five weeks before succumbing to the maleficence of lung cancer. Even the smallest hopes of achieving the small things drove him on, despite all the pain and anxiety he was experiencing ~ hopes of a visit home or even just to the day room, hopes of enjoying another bowl of jelly and ice-cream or simply of having his pillow adjusted to settle more comfortably ~ he believed in himself, despite his incapacities, to work on achieving these goals. And he did.

He recognised that hope needs effort, action and, sometimes, help in order to nurture goals to fruition. And he showed gratitude to everyone along the way. I learned much from my father, right up until the end.

I know we can’t eat hope for breakfast, but it is within us for a very good evolutionary reason. We have the capacity to imagine better things, and then to aim for them, despite uncertainties (of which there are many). It’s a kind of built-in optimism and we’d be fools to deny its potency. But we need to be more articulate in defining our hopes, to take ownership of them. Then we can begin to work towards them, despite any risks of failure, rather than just waiting for a lucky strike.

Those who shun hope lock themselves into oblivion. Human hopelessness cannot be cardinal, given all we are now being told by the scientific community on the rapidly changing state of the planet.

My hope is that more people truly understand what these observations mean, not just for themselves, but for all life. I hope that more will realise the incredible beauty of the complexity of all life, and then take steps to reduce their impacts. And outcomes may even be beautiful. Hope Springs.

Above all, I hope that people love this Earth enough to want to make those changes.

The next one hundred years will see many Earth-shocks, some of which we cannot even predict. Our hopes of today could mean better outcomes for all. We are mirrors shining into the future. The next one hundred years are the reflections in our ‘hope’ mirrors ~ and we might pause to imagine, our grandchildren (and indeed their children), will be looking at them very closely.

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