Lately, the night has become my favourite part of the day. It’s true I don’t get to see the autumn colours but I can hear them. I wait with almost childlike anticipation and thrill for the dusk to fall, for the hands of the clock to move forward and the world to fall silent. It’s a relief when the constant drone and clatter, the cacophony of the human world dies down and I’m left in the dark with soft layers of silence around me. I feel safe. I sometimes say out loud: “Now we’re safe.” I’m not sure whom I mean by we, but I guess it’s all the life in the woods and meadows and on the wind-swept slopes of the mountains. I love the music, the song of the more-than-human world. The whole world, the whole universe is a huge, monumental orchestra playing its epic, primordial song. And we’re all dancers: birds and trees, mountains, streams, a dewdrop, a dolphin. And at the same time each of us is a song.
On sleepless nights I listen to the song of the forest. Never is it so sweet as in autumn. I open the window of my room and just a few feet from my bed there are creatures big and small, the invisible bundles of fur and feathers, living out their nocturnal adventures. Sometimes I only hear feet scurrying through dry leaves, sometimes there’s a funny huffing and puffing sound moving among the trees. An occasional squeal. The hoarse, halting bark of a fox. An owl hooting in the old oak. And sometimes I can hear a cry of a bird – shrill and piercing and ominous. Then a moment’s silence, followed by the flapping of the wings as she flies away into the dark. Her heart-wrenching cry is a lamentation, a plea, a song of the apocalypse, torn from the pages of Blake, Yeats and Eliot.
Homo sapiens is the most invasive species on Earth. We’re a cancerous growth spreading stealthily through the body of the planet, choking and killing everything as we go along. But ours too will be the fate of a tumor: when the host perishes, the tumor dies as well. Our utter disregard and lack of compassion for other life forms fills me sometimes with dread, but most often I’m just really, really sad. I feel the pain of a bird struggling in an oil spill, the pain of a tree being felled, the agony of a fish so laden with mercury that she can no longer find her way through the vast ocean. A long time ago, when I was still hopeful, I tried to talk about all this mess to other people. But what I usually got back was: “I’m just one and even if I change my ways nothing will be any better. So what’s the use? Governments should do something.” Or: “They should do something.” I don’t know who they is. I don’t know any they. They is just a dangerous and frightening optical illusion of our consciousness. It’s just us. It’s always just us.
Every species gone extinct is my responsibility and my fault. And yours. Every dead river is my fault. And yours. Chemicals in the air, in water, in food, in our clothes and babies dying because of them… all that is your fault. And it’s mine.
At any moment we can make that change! It’s our greed that causes so much suffering. A decade ago I realized I don’t want to spend my life being a consumer.
I want to live in wonder, to be astonsihed and awe-struck by the natural beauty of the world. To wash in a stream and drink from it, to bring a crate full of delicious food from the garden. To walk barefoot on the soft moss. Lichen. To sit in the sun and watch ants go about their life on the ant hill and to learn from them about community and to learn about it from the bees. To study trees… how selflessly they give and to try and be like them – rooted and at the same time pliant. The gifts I receive from nature are invaluable and too many to name. And before I turn in at night, I put my palms together and I bow and say: “Thank you.” I say thank you a lot.