When things seem out of our control, as it often appears these days, one of the things that has been a source of comfort and, at times, anger, is the predictability of parts of nature. The sun will always rise in the morning and set in the evening. The birds will be out singing, chatting with each other. And with the seasons, we can see little buds appear in the spring with each day readying themselves to blossom in their glorious beauty. There is comfort in the knowledge that these events will occur, that no matter how bad things may seem to us today, tomorrow the light will appear in the morning signalling a new day and a new opportunity to feel something different, perhaps feel better.
Conversely, the fact that life moves on regardless of how we are feeling can leave some of us frustrated, angry even. It is a feeling borne out of the assumption that if our world is crashing around us then how dare the outside world just carry on as if we didn't matter. Whether it is the loss of a loved one, financial worries, health issues, there are many reasons for which one will feel an anger towards the world. I must admit, I have felt that in the past. In my darker days. The days when I felt like I was the only person in the world who just wanted to stay under the covers of my bed and not get out, except if it was raining because then the outside matched my inside.
These days however, I am a disciple of nature's discipline, comforted by its predictability and punctuality. It warms my heart to know that what is just outside my windows and doors is a life that is supporting me in its own way. I look at the trees as members of my natural community, this especially after reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben who writes about how trees have a sense of fraternity and companionship.
It's not just trees as recently discovered by Stefano Mancuso. The plant neurobiologist explores the intelligent life from beneath the surface (literally) to what we see sprouting in the open air. There's a reason why it is recommended that we talk to our plants that goes beyond spiritual. As Amy Fleming writes (and quoting Mancuso) in The Guardian , "Mancuso says plants are far more sensitive than animals. “And this is not an opinion. This is based on thousands of pieces of evidence. We know that a single root apex is able to detect at least 20 different chemical and physical parameters, many of which we are blind to.” There could be a tonne of cobalt or nickel under our feet, and we would have no idea, whereas “plants can sense a few milligrams in a huge amount of soil”." My husband will be pleased as his love of plants and gardening continues to grow as he tends to our little patch of natural life that surrounds our house. We are expecting to have a bounty of vegetables, herbs, and beautiful flowers this summer.
Our world is filled with such wonderful sights and intrepid explorer Simon Reeve has been travelling the world uncovering them in his easygoing, charismatic manner. We have been watching Reeve's current BBC series on 'The Americas' and it prompted me to read up more about him. I then realised why he looked so familiar to me. Reeve, when he was just 28, was thrust into the spotlight in 2001 to discuss a topic very different to what we see him talking about today. Back then he was called upon to give his insights into Osama Bin Laden as his book The New Jackals published a few years prior was the only one that discussed in length Al Qaeda and the mind of its leader. At the time I had just started working at CNN so Reeve was widely seen during the coverage of the 9/11 attacks.
Reeve has had an interesting and inspiring path towards producing some amazing content that we see today. Perhaps what makes him so likeable and able to connect with the viewers is his sensitivity and empathy. Growing up, life was a struggle leading him to a point of contemplating suicide telling the Telegraph, “I remember the years of helplessness; a sense of being lost, incapable, and pathetic and frightened. That period is ever present.”Yet it would be the gentle advice given to him by a woman working at a job centre that would give him a sense of being seen and understood saying in an article in Scotland's The National newspaper, "I owe a lot to a lady in a DSS office in Ealing, who one day realised what was happening to me. She told me to take things step by step. I never had that sort of comment before. It wasn’t just what she said, it was the way she said it with a warmth and a humanity, all at such a difficult point in my life. So I tried to dig myself out of the hole.”
Being able to dig deep into the darkness is not easy, especially when it involves caves and bats. Just ask someone who is known in scientific circles as China's "bat woman". Shi Zhengli, a virologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences has spent much of her career in the caverns of bat caves, studying them to gain more insights into the viruses they carry and the threats those viruses can pose to human life--as we are seeing today with the latest strain of the coronavirus. As written in Scientific American, "With growing human populations increasingly encroaching on wildlife habitats, with unprecedented changes in land use, with wildlife and livestock transported across countries and their products around the world, and with a sharp increase in both domestic and international travel, new disease outbreaks of pandemic scale are a near mathematical certainty." A certainty that keeps Shi and her team busier than ever. Thankfully, they were among the first to discover the genetic code of the SARS COVID-19 virus and it is with that tenacity and determination to go where most people wouldn't want to go is actually helping us gain more knowledge of these mysterious strains, and saving lives.
Nature is our greatest teacher. It shows us its appreciation when we respect it by showering us with immense beauty to soothe our souls. Yet it will not hesitate to destroy all that we have become accustomed to in the blink of an eye through airborne diseases that can bring us to our knees physically, financially, and emotionally, or through climate-related natural disasters. It is also during these times where we see what humanity is made of and what we are capable of. Take chef José Andrés for example. Amongst the first responders to disaster zones, you will now find him and his team at World Central Kitchen, the philanthropic organisation founded by Andrés, offering hot food to those who need it the most, offering more help and hope than the US government which has been seen to waffle in its response to the pandemic crisis and even to its response to some natural disasters. World Central came into its own during Hurricane Maria that battered Puerto Rico in 2017. Its executive director Nate Mook said in Time magazine, "Puerto Rico was that moment where it’s like, O.K., it’s time to put into practice all that we’ve been soaking up over the years. We saw the sheer paralysis of the government’s response. We realized we were on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. We said, Let’s start somewhere. Let’s start cooking.” And they have been, most recently at the Oakland California dock beside the Grand Princess cruise ship with 2500 passengers and 1000 crew on board.
Going back to basics is often the key to finding our equilibrium when we feel out of sync. And nature provides that equilibrium, even when it is lashing out, because it is a reminder to us to dial back whatever we are doing, whatever we are feeling and just take it one step at a time.
I hope wherever you are, you are keeping well and staying healthy. And remember, no matter what you're feeling today tomorrow is another day. Nature will make sure of that.