We were out before daylight again, the dog and I. In spite f the storms, wind and rain, there are daffodils in flower and everywhere there are signs of spring. While the human half of this pre-dawn duo cowered gratefully in an overlarge coat, the smaller, but more energetic half bounded along joyfully, breathing steam like a miniature dragon. A resilient creature, impervious to the rain in, I realised, a resilient landscape.
Instead of our usual walk through the fields, and because I needed to call at the village shop, we returned to old haunts and walked down the lane towards the hamlet of Wormstone, so tiny it gets a mere one-liner in Wikipedia. Parish records indicate the name is derived from the Old English for Wærmund’s farm, but I have always preferred to wonder if there was an older, more interesting story of dragons and sacred stones behind the name. And why not? Man has always dreamed and wondered.
Still, even the name Wærmund takes the history back well over a thousand years, and I crossed the path of the old Roman road as I walked, taking history back even further, catching a brief glimpse of the site of the Iron Age remains in the fields beyond. Prehistoric flint tools have been found here, and human occupation seems to have been a constant in the area. There is even archaeological evidence of a vineyard under the site of the school, which, on this cold and wintry morning, seems rather bizarre, though gardeners still tended their allotments alongside the site until work began on the new houses that are being constructed.
To the casual observer, there is no evidence of this history. Few of the villagers seem to be aware of the long story of their home and the changes wrought by man are overlooked unless they are obvious… and then we simply accept them as part of the landscape. It does not take very long for life to move history forward or for Nature to colonise and conceal the traces of human habitation, folding a green counterpane around our passing.
The dog does not ruminate on her place in history. Her attention is immediate, especially when the jewel colours of a pheasant stands bright against the green or the red kite calls from the air. I huddle in my fur-lined coat and watch instinct take over as she freezes into the classic setter stance and I cannot help but smile at the simplicity of her joy in her futile pursuit of winged creatures.
We are, after all, such small creatures. Our individual lives insignificant when compared to the slow life of a stone or the majesty of a mighty oak. There are ancient trees in the landscape here, beneath whose boughs lovers have met for centuries. Streams whose waters have run through the chalk to the rivers and seas, rising to the heavens before falling again to give life to the ground.
Every life matters, every life has its place in the pattern of this rich tapestry. We matter to ourselves and to each other, to those we love and who care for us, to those affected by our actions or our work. We matter in the grand scheme, because without each and every life the design would be incomplete and different. Imperfect.
Insignificant as we seem, every single one of us changes the world every day by the choices we make and the actions we take. We can change it for the better or for the worse, but change it we do. No matter how small the arena in which we feel we live, the effect we have on those around us and our immediate environment is real.
As a race, a species, we have deliberately altered the face of the planet more visibly than any other species, adapting it to our needs. Our actions have wide-ranging consequences for the lives of the other creatures with whom we share this world. Even the least of us can reach out across the globe with the technologies at our fingertips.
As individuals, we are not responsible for humanity’s collective past, but we hold its future in our hands. We are responsible for the mark each of us leaves as a footnote in history, even if our individual stories are neither written nor remembered but fade like the morning mist wraiths in the sun. The mark we leave on the greater landscape of life, no matter how faint, is indelible.