What is an environmental question? Shall I tell you what I think? A good one might be, why it is that a bee somehow looks like you’d like to stroke its back? Whereas a wasp, for instance, has a hateful quality apparent in its bifurcated, tapering abdomen. A bee has a solid waist, it looks like a corpulent, middle-aged geezer who has found what he is looking for and is happy to share it with you over a glass of beer. Or a portly woman doing a bit of gardening, possibly with a few buns on the go in the oven. Sometimes when one opens the newspaper to find that carbon dioxide emissions are up 8%, or some similar news story, it feels very disheartening – and does not inspire one very much.
Yet it remains true that bees have declined by up to 90% in some areas because people (and farmers) have been using Glyphosate to knock out weeds for years and years… and years… in the mistaken belief that it breaks down quickly and does no harm. Now there is a suspicion that Glyphosate destroys the memory of bees so they lose track of where their hives are, and end flying hither and thither until they run out of optimism and lie down to die. We know this now, we know it very well. Einstein once commented that without bees the human race would last about four years. Did you know that a swarm of bees can pollinate up to 300 million flowers per day? In China they are sending out farm workers with feather wisps to pollinate the crops. There’s an image that might have amused Lewis Carroll. No doubt he would have created a purple rabbit to hop about, pollinating the flowers with his floppy little tail.
But when I walked out today and found four rather small honey bees, it was a good sign. They were, in fact, messing up a couple of Glaucous Dog Rose bushes growing on a rocky slope that leads down from the house towards a meadow covered in juniper trees. Its petals were littering the ground, the big flowers filled with bumble bees like little pigs rolling around in the plentiful pollen.
Deep ecology is when you can appreciate looking at things rather than just treating nature like some sort of dreary economic policy.
Deep ecology is when you attach a kind of value to the sound of a Woodcock flying over in the evening, issuing its odd grunting sounds as it beats its short, rapid wings. No one knows why it always flies over so purposefully every night, as if it is heading somewhere. Having its supper, perhaps?
And deep ecology is a pleasure taken at the sight of a field knee-deep in stinging nettles, where butterflies are springing out of the ground in unbelievable numbers.
Nature is very simple, it needs what it needs, and if it gets it, the results can be readily seen. Some may feel that nature is not a very “street” subject to write about. Which would be true, but I guess those people have never seen a whole field of nettles spitting out a cloud of Painted Ladies and many other butterflies, as I did today when I went walking. I really do think lepidopterists must be a poetical lot, because today I also saw Camberwell Beauties, Swallowtails and Red Admirals. Which makes me wonder who comes up with these names? I mean someone must have, in the past, there must have been nice, leisured, retired vicars tramping about with nets and handbooks, cataloguing these unnecessarily colourful tissue papers of the air, and enjoying the haiku-like process of naming them. In case this seems nerdy, bear in mind that Vladimir Nabokov, one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century and far sharper than anyone I ever met, was… a passionate lepidopterist. In fact, in 1945 he came up with a theory for how North America was colonised by butterflies. From Asia. Coming over in waves. Experts scoffed for many years. But thanks to gene-sequencing technology we are beginning to see that he was right. That’s right, folks. There was a time when there were no butterflies in America!
Similarly, one wonders who came up with the name “Glaucous Dog Rose”? I can tell you there is nothing either very glaucous or canine about a dog rose. It is, in fact, a profuse flowering bush whose stem is riddled with tiny spines. It’s nothing like a rose, roses are aristocrats but Glaucous Dog Roses are milk maids and, to me at least, seem more attractive than their high-bred cousins. Certainly healthier and not so hungry for manure. Less high-maintenance.
Deep ecology, then, is a sort of pleasure one takes in feeling nature living around one, proliferating and growing and throwing up flowers and trees and strange beasts.
I once enjoyed a battle between a buzzard and a hare. Frankly, it beat any film I have ever seen. The buzzard went for the hare and the hare jumped up and kicked it in the beak. About sixteen times. For a fun-packed thirty minutes. Running across a field and occasionally jumping and socking that buzzard where it hurt. If I’d been carrying a 500 mm. mirror lens with a camera attached at the other end I would have made a lot of money that day, maybe I would have earned myself a book deal.
But you know, a deep ecologist is not bothered about that. Money can’t buy a hare kicking a buzzard in the beak.
America produced one of the greatest deep ecologists of all time, and her name was Annie Dillard. I challenge anyone who likes to read, to go out and buy a copy of her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. That woman sure had ecology in her bones, and I am glad to say she shared it with us.
Just to round off, I should tell you that I am spending a few weeks on the west coast of Sweden, on the outermost islands in an archipelago that stretches far into the sea. Scandinavia does not have four seasons, which may surprise some of you. In fact, it has seven seasons. In late autumn there is a brief spell when the ice is not strong enough to bear any weight, yet lies on the water like an obstinate skin. And at the end of spring, just before summer kicks in, there is a period of rest when the birds and bees are getting out of bed. A Finland-Swedish writer not yet translated (except by me) wrote a great book where he describes this period:
“It is as if Nature takes a short breather after the violent growth and budding of spring; takes stock of the situation, inhaling deeply and gathering her powers before bursting into full greenery. The silver birch stand waiting, covered in hairy mice-ears, the bird-cherries keep their buds ready for eruption, the eider hens rest in their down-upholstered nests after their strenuous laying, content just to keep the eggs warm; even the flies bide their time in the pleasant warmth of dung-heaps, making no hurry to sally out and torment people or livestock.”
For the last few weeks I have been immersed in it all and, let me tell you, I don’t want to go home. I’m not sure if I also had some Glyphosate at some point, but coming here has made me remember where I came from.