Invading others’ space
I read a fantastic article — wait. No. I didn’t. I read the blurb and introduction to a fantastic article here on Medium by J. J. Pryor. Because I haven’t got a membership for Medium, at the moment. Because — Catch22 — I’m working hard to develop enough of a following on Medium so I can earn money. But to get followers, I have to read and respond to the writing that’s up there, and I can’t do that if I can only read three articles a month. All I can do is keep posting writing in the hope that I’ll find the people who want to read what I write, so I can earn enough to resume my membership. Here goes.
What I have to say is vitally important, yet often falls between the cracks. The same thing happened to my father, who was an early follower of Rachel Carson, who wrote Silent Spring (and was vilified for it). The thing is, saying what needs to be said is often unsexy and ignored. There’s a war on. There’s a pandemic. We don’t have time to deal with the ecological emergency. The what? Who cares. I need to look after my family. I want to go on holiday. There’s no point in talking about something that will happen anyhow.
I clearly have a niche: the ecological emergency. Almost no-one (apart from Timothy Morton, who coined the phrase) knows or cares what it means or why it might be important to name it such, as opposed to climate change, the biodiversity crisis, the plastic pollution problem, or even The Anthropocene. All these talk about things which feel external. The ecological emergency, on the other hand, recognises that what we see is what we’re looking with, as well as what we’re looking at.
Yesterday morning, I did yoga on the beach. I move very slowly when I do yoga on the beach, especially if the tide is high and going out, because this is when the waders — sanderlings, turnstones, plovers, and even the occasional whimbrel — patter along the shoreline, feeding on the invertebrates that lie exposed by the waning water.
It strikes me that I am in these creatures’ way, and the least I can do is minimise the disturbance. Sometimes, if I can, I pull my mat back its own length along the sand so the birds can take advantage of any creatures that might have mistaken the darkness for the sea, and come to the surface. It’s not that I don’t care about invertebrates. I’m very interested in their survival too. It’s just that I want to get out of the way, as much as possible, and let the world in all its forms get on with the ebb and flow of life. Humanity has a poor track record in this regard. We tend to use the world and its contents as though it were a smorgasbord and we the only hungry souls seeking to stuff ourselves on what heaven sent delights happen to grab our attention. But it’s not like that, really. And somewhere, deep, we know that.
So few other people walking on the beach or on the (manmade) walkway just behind the shore, or in the houses that extend back for a couple of miles, or the shops behind that which cover most of the flat ground, seem either to notice the birds, or to move out of their way, or otherwise accommodate them. Yet this is fundamentally their home, their place, their niche, and we humans, whether holiday makers, settlers or locals, ought at least to recognise that. It’s deeply sad that we’re so blind to the natural world, particularly when in the most profound sense possible, it is our home too, but not ours alone.
What can we do to raise awareness so more of us make space for more of them? When I was growing up, and even when I first moved to Ireland, there were huge flocks of waders on the beach, a great crew of sanderlings, those tiny, pale specks of movement with impossibly quick legs that race them back and forth with the beat of every lapping wave. Now there are maybe a half dozen at once. We let our dogs race after them, exhilarated at their boundless energy, while the exhausted birds use up what little reserves they have lifting themselves out of harm’s way instead of resting and recovering from long migrations.
Signs don’t seem to work. It’s no use telling people to change. It has to be a visceral thing. They have to — we have to — feel the great tug of recognition at the bright eye looking warily back at us, its deep knowing which is different from ours, but just as valid, and perhaps even deeper, coming, as it does, from a longer line of living in community.
If just one person on Medium looks at other species, and even ecosystems, as having their own place, for which we owe them space, and respectful slowing down, and ways of being with, rather than dominating, then this will have done some service. Do let me know if you shift how you look at the other species and systems whose homes we’ve overloaded with demands for our pleasure, and our freedom, and tell me if you can understand invasion differently. What we do at one level, we inevitably do at another. We are not separate from the world, and our way of looking it dictates how we act. Let’s pay attention to this fact, and see if, one by one, we can awaken from the mad illusion that the world was put here for humanity’s benefit alone.