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  • Ian McClellan

Week 15: I will learn more about the pace of nature.

Updated: Jul 28, 2020


I find that going for a walk in a forest, is a lesson in the pace of nature.


If you were to leave your phone at home today, maybe at lunchtime if its a weekday, and go for a half-hour's walk in a woodland or just in nature generally, the chances are that when you return there might be upwards of ten emails, and perhaps a few social messages waiting on your device for your immediate attention.


On the other hand, in the forest itself, not much might have happened. Depending on the season, you might have noticed a few leaves fall from trees, or you might have caught a glimpse or two of wildlife scurrying about in the undergrowth and looking for food. The same probably would have been your experience if you'd have taken a walk fifty years ago.


If you were lucky enough to go for a walk in the same woodland, and assuming no unnatural intervention, fifty years from now, it might also look broadly the same. Similar familiar outlines of trees would break the skyline, and much the same creatures would be existing in much the same patterns of behaviour. If it was the same season as before, then you might notice a few leaves fall from trees, or catch a glimpse or two of wildlife scurrying about in the undergrowth and looking for food.


However, by then you'll probably be on your tenth or twentieth new phone, should phones still exist as we know them now. Maybe by then you'll also have ten hologram voicemails, seven emails reminding you about shopping from the AI assistant in your fridge, and a missed call from your cousin on the moon. I'm not sure, I am making this up.


I guess the point is that not much appears to happen in nature in each moment, but it is slow and relentless. Nature has existed, adapted, and continued to exist at its own pace, despite the accelerating pace of our own lives. I haven't read anything about trees growing faster in order to accommodate for our human desire to cut them down and burn them, or bushes naturally learning how to grow strawberries in the Summer, and blackberries in the Autumn, and then potatoes in the Winter, to make themselves more efficient for human needs.


That is of course also the appeal of nature. It helps us to appreciate stillness. It gives us space to breathe, and at the same time provides interesting things to look at in a passive way. You can see things without necessarily looking, and give your eyes and your soul a detox. It reminds us how small and insignificant the human moment is, and how soil always smells like soil, and has perhaps for thousands of years. On that note, there is even something therapeutic about putting your nose really into the ground, even in your garden or in a park, and really smelling the soil. It sounds odd, and looks even odder, but it is wonderful. Nature just does, and is.


However, much as nature as far as I know hasn't evolved forwards to be somehow more hyperconnected, I have read a lot about nature going backwards, and suffering at the hands of humans. Much of what I have said is a generalisation and one person's opinion, and the reason for this broad generalisation is perhaps also to highlight what many of us might think when we read about walking in a forest near us in 50 years. Most of us will accept that in 50-years, it either won't be there, or will both not be there and will have been replaced by concrete or houses or a shiny shopping mall. We imagine in a perfect future walk, at our favourite place, for there to be no unnatural intervention, but unnatural human intervention is becoming the rule rather than the exception.


That all being said, we live in a house, and we sometimes visit shopping malls. It is hypercritical for me to take an activist point of view that we should cease all building, and lie down in front of the bulldozers for any new developments in our area. We live in a semi-rural location, and sometimes we hope for progress and convenience. We sometimes crave urban days, and during holidays when city-dwellers search for crisp walks and country pubs, we do the opposite. We live near the country pubs, so we stay away because they are busy and instead head to a nearby city, for a different stimulus.


For this week, I wanted to think about nature, and about connection. I have read a lot recently about deforestation, and this perhaps is the inspiration has has stirred up a lot of emotion. We are also looking after a close friend's chilli plant, whilst they are travelling and working in Australia and South Asia. Deforestation and a chilli plant are very different things, but gave me an idea for common ground, and a little change to be more connected with nature.


Firstly, everything I needed to know about the stats on deforestation was summarised nicely on the WWF UK page. They say that in the time that it takes say 'deforestation', another chunk of forest the size of a football pitch has been destroyed, and that this happens every minute, every hour, every day. That is just the trees, never mind the habitats and ecosystems that are also connected to the trees.


I know that catchy stats such as that are perhaps becoming fashionable, which has begun to lessen their impact, but because the topic is so serious, and so complicated, I think it is a nice way of helping people like to me understand the scale. Perhaps cynicism also creeps in because the largest impact of deforestation might happen for agricultural reasons many, many miles from the window that I am gazing out of right now. But this does not mean it isn't happening, and that we can't make changes ourselves that can help. I think we can all see at least a football pitch sized space outside our house or office window, whether that is garden or tarmac, piazza, or other houses. And so imagining them being bulldozed in two seconds, was a good visualisation exercise. I would even get stressed if the a bit of a garden wall blew down.


Of the few hours of research that I was able to do, the WWF UK site is also a really good, balanced, and factual site to visit. In particular, they have a great page on the myths of deforestation that I found really interesting, and also helped to answer some of the questions that I had around habits, and some fun things to do to make a difference that comes from a far more qualified source than this diary. There are also WWF sites in other countries, this is the UK site: https://www.wwf.org.uk/. There are also ways to donate should you wish to do that, and some information about Earth Hour, which is coming up in a few weeks.


In addition, the internet is a great place to find causes to donate to, which is also one of the most direct ways we can help. Reading about deforestation, makes me want to go out and plant a tree, ten trees, a hundred trees, and million trees. Rather than doing it directly, regular donations, help pressure groups to make change at a level that individuals cannot. Buying products that promise to plant or re-plant trees, buying paper and other tree products less, or from responsible sources is also something that we try to do, and can also help to scale solutions in a way that individuals cannot. This is a habit we can all do, donations do not have to be large, and also many organisations have products that can be bought that are sustainably sourced but also contribute to the organisation's ability to make a change.


However, to stay true to my aim of being planetwise, what I wanted to do this week, is go further and also make a change on top that reminded me of nature, the pace and fragility of nature and reminded me to keep thinking about how to be better each day, and consider nature when making choices every day. Something direct, that is also a habit, and something everyone can do. Planting a tree for example, I do not believe is something that everyone can do personally. We don't all have gardens, or access to land. Once planted, they often do not need tending and so is not a constant reminder. Plus, even in a small way saying that we should all begin guerilla planting trees I don't believe is responsible when we can donate to an organisation that knows how to do it, where to do it, and the right tree to plant, and can do it in far larger numbers.


This is where the chilli plant came in as inspiration, and a thought about how we could make a small but active change. A change that will keep nature in mind, will require permanent daily thought, and will require the creation of a new habit, and a planetwise habit. This week, I am learning more about the pace of nature, by caring for more plants in the house, and by growing more inside.


If this feels like a small change to many, I have to apologise. However, in our house, to say we are minimalist when it comes to vegetation, is an understatement. We have tried in the past to grow herbs, to keep gifted orchids or other plants alive, all unsuccessfully. Basil wilts, coriander goes brown and dies, and the petals of anything in a pot fall off within a few weeks. We still have a herb garden on the windowsill, and we do manage to keep the pots alive for longer than fresh packaged herbs, but we still forget in sporadic phases when life gets busy, and lose another herb to the compost. We under-water, than panic and overwater.


This all changed with the chilli plant that we are plant-sitting, as we really wanted to keep it alive. The chilli plant in question was grown from seed, tended with love, and already had a crop of fat, juicy chillis to harvest. To hand this back somehow wilted, or yellowing, would be a travesty. Every day I have been watching, researching, and making sure that we try to give the plant the optimum hydration. It has once looked too limp for my liking, and not only did I hydrate it carefully, but checked at two-hourly intervals to make sure the leaves were plumper, that the green was brighter. I spoke with the local independent pizza restaurant, who had basil growing around their walls, and asked how they kept it alive. Even in this small connection I learned something that will help - that you always water fragile herbs such as basil from the bottom, so you do not compact the soil and allow them to take water only when they need it. I am sure they would not pretend to be an expert in herbs, rather they make fabulous pizzas. But it worked.


Tending for the chilli, had already had a positive impact on our herbs. By watching the chilli, it also reminded us to monitor the herbs more closely. The windowsill is alive with green, we feel good and are benefiting already from taking more care. What chilli and herbs have in common it seems - is that tending for them is really, really hard. Water it too much, and it does not survive. Water it too little, and the chillis will shrivel and die. The balance is hard to achieve, just like every natural process. Tending to these plants is a very small thing, but when I think about it, other thoughts enter my head, and other promises are kept to make decisions that are better for nature.


I have therefore introduced a second area of vegetation in the house, this time of succulent plants. This is the name given to a group of plants that generally grow in harsh habitats, where water is minimal. Therefore they hold on to oxygen, and to water more efficiently, and therefore for people who might be unpractised, or find time hard to come by, they are a great way to bring a planetwise habit and some beneficial greenery into the home or at work, that might otherwise not be there. They are plants such as aloe vera, snake plants, and there is lots of information out there about how to source and care for them. They are available at most garden centres, and although not native - considering that there were zero plants in our house aside from the aforementioned chilli plant and herbs, they are new natural products that would not have been there before we began this project and this diary.


They are also of course not an alternative to replanting rainforests or making the bigger decisions that help to restore balance in our planet's ecosystems, and that is not the purpose. They are a reminder, that when we can we should be aware, donate, and make choices that are kind to the planet. When we water them, perhaps we are then more likely to make another good choice, as we have nature on our mind. Houseplants such as succulents have beneficial impacts to the atmosphere in your home by absorbing certain toxins from the air, which of course is the same air that we all breathe ultimately. Tending to them, is a habit that is meditative and progressive. They are nearby when we are making other choices around the home, and I believe subliminally remind us to make better choices, because we have attached this meaning that goes beyond their aesthetic appeal.


The habit therefore is small, but the way I made the decision feels planetwise and it is additional to our lives. I will still go for walks. I will still consider the statistics, and not think that somehow this fulfils my responsibility as a human being. I will still seek out the big skies, and still consider the big picture. I will still smell the soil, and remember that we are just visiting this planet, and that we should try to be more respectful to nature. We are trying to be even better by growing some small plants from seed. But right now in the small moments, when pottering for five minutes in the morning, and making sure all the plants are looking OK, it will also remind me of the pace of nature. It will remind me to be thoughtful, to care about the planet every day in a small way, as well as trying to make big changes when I can, or joining collective pressure to protect our natural areas.


We are all connected, and if we have a spare windowsill, why not fill it with green. If we have space on our desks, why not fill it with green, and then start each work day by taking half a minute to tend to it. By taking little opportunities such as this to grow something, our little changes have an impact directly, but also they can have an impact attitudinally to how we see the world and this is perhaps more important. By taking little opportunities to be closer to nature, we will perhaps remember more often for example about the football pitch of trees and habitats that are destroyed.


For this reason, I know that a succulent or a houseplant is small, and the scale of deforestation is huge. I am not great at maths, but if each of our succulents is in a small pot, then about 100 of them will fit on a square metre. This means that by my calculations, about 700,000 of them would fit on a football pitch. Even if I got my decimal point in the wrong place, the number is massive. Having a houseplant is not a solution, but a mindset of considering nature can remind us to make many other good choices.


If there are 60 million people in the UK, and if half of us grew a plant, then we could save 85 football pitches. But even this, only means we make a difference for about a minute or two. Its staggering. But if 30 million people in the UK tried to make a better choices permanently, not versus others but just versus themselves, that is a difference. It does all starts with the individual, and in this case, I feel we have given our planet another tiny bit of help to breathe easier.

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