It was, without a doubt, a glorious day. Spring had painted the world with colour. The sky was a cloudless blue, the birds were singing and the sweater had finally come off, replaced with a thin cotton top allowing bare skin to absorb the sun. Magic. Even the early ride to work had been a joy…apart from the travel-sickness. I’m not a good passenger; my little car is off the road at present and taxi drivers notoriously lack delicacy in their driving… So I am blaming the taxi for the sudden wave of emotion that grabbed me as I watched the fields give way to housing.
I understand the necessity of providing more homes, but the five miles of green fields that once separated my home from the town are now being obliterated by bricks and concrete. First they build the best homes… looking very like a rather swish village. Once sold, they fill in all the wonderful green spaces with flats and smaller streets. Next come the facilities to serve the homes…and, once the house-builders have sold everything, the warehousing and industrial units start to ring the ‘village’ in. Meanwhile, the new high-speed train line will be cutting through the landscape right next door.
The cynicism of the whole affair reminded me of the sequence in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when the Vogons are about to demolish the Earth to make way for a new hyperspace expressway.The Vogons, before pressing the button, pointed out the need to look carefully at the plans…
“There’s no point in acting surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display at your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now… What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? Oh, for heaven’s sake, mankind, it’s only four light years away, you know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs...”
Even in the few brief years since I have lived in my own village…a much older one…I have seen it expand, nibbling away at the countryside that should be sustaining us. I even live in a new-build flat, right on the edge of the village where once there was just a field. A couple of years down the line and there is talk of another field or two full of houses behind mine…and the high-speed train, of course will pass this way too. But it wasn’t regret that made my eyes prickle with tears. What came with the utmost clarity was a realisation of how very lucky I am to have been born when and where I was.
There are still great open spaces, even in this tiny island. We will not fill them in my lifetime. The very roads and transport that cause so much pollution have allowed us to roam and see places our great grandparents might only have read about, even within our own land. We have the leisure to travel, even if we do not travel far. And there is still beauty on out doorsteps no matter where we are.
Once in the town, I was obliged to walk to the local shop for a few groceries for my son. Instead of taking the long route through the streets, I cut through the forsaken alley that runs behind his home. Graffiti sprawls across the walls, plastic, glass and the detritus of human indifference strews the ground… yet the birds are everywhere. Blue-tits and coal-tits hop from branch to branch. Sparrows, blackbirds and thrushes flit by or add their song to the chorus. Magpies are nesting in the trees and the doves sing a soft, reassuring counterpoint to the music of life. The resident robin watches as the local squirrel scurries across the wall. A confused blue butterfly romances the forget-me-nots and even here in the town, a red kite sails overhead.
The flowers seem to be laughing at the sun. Escapees from the confines of the gardens, discarded and thrown into the alley as trash, have taken root and flourish, side by side with the wildflowers that the gardeners would call weeds. Gnarled bark creates patterns of shadows and petals reflect a light so bright they almost consumed and rendered invisible. The fresh fragrance of flowers lifts away the taint of exhaust fumes and the breeze and birdsong silence the traffic noise.
Blossom casts petals like confetti on the bridal rite of spring… a rite that will go on regardless of what we do. Mankind is a newcomer compared to Mother Nature. We have brought destruction and yet we have also created beauty. I wonder what our final legacy will be… and whether we can, as a species, live to find harmony with the forces of nature or if we will self-destruct through our constant expansion and desire to conquer the very source of our own lives. I remember a documentary series I watched some years ago, Life after People, and find the destitute, littered alley strangely comforting… full of hope. There is a life-force in nature that is stronger than humanity’s heedless tenure. Unless we manage to wipe every trace of life from this planet we call home, she will survive us and slowly cover the traces of our juvenile destructiveness. Perhaps, like a grieving mother, she will cover our memory with flowers.
At a more personal level, I had to smile as the flowers were a reminder of how little importance may really be attached to so many of the things over which we agonise. The memories of those cringeworthy moments of youth and inexperience, for example, hidden in the undergrowth of the memory, are replaced with a greater poise and confidence as we grow. Damage that we may have either caused or felt will remain and take time to heal, hidden in the shadows beneath the leaves,. But it is often just those decaying and discarded experiences that form the basis of new growth. Yesterday is buried beneath the blossoms of today.
From the darkest corners of our lives true beauty can be born; the starker the contrast, the more it will shine, yet, without that contrast we might never notice …Spring is a season of hope and promise. Life and light drive cold winter into monochrome memory. We know that there will be dark days again, it will rain, it will storm and the seasons will continue their dance. But there is always spring.