Is there beauty in the mud?

We have been wading through the most squalorous, squelchy, sticky, smelly mud for several weeks now. Some days it’s so muddy that you can’t actually find anywhere to wipe the mud off your hands because you’ve already wiped so much mud onto yourself by wiping your hands off on yourself. This is, sadly, not satire.

I have recently, rather forlornly, looked out over the landscape of my woodland and wondered to myself whether we were doing too much damage by churning up the whole forest floor. The site is rife with natural springs that make themselves known in heavy rainfall and, of course, there’s the stream we diverted right into the middle of the woods. All of this naturally occurring water combined with hundreds of (joyfully taken) footsteps has created a quagmire of mud and uncertainty.

My argument has always been that whatever small-scale damage our group is doing to this one piece of land is outweighed by the passion and enthusiasm for the natural world that these children will carry into their adult lives. My guiding belief has been that by raising kids to be passionate consumers of nature, they will grow to be adults who are policy makers who protect nature.

But still I wonder. The nettles are all but gone – a welcome loss I think since they grew so thickly in the woods 6 years ago that by midsummer they were the only plant species we ever saw. Recently we’ve seen forget-me-nots, herb robert, and lords and ladies flourishing in the site and I put this down to there being a lot less nettles.

But this spring I am seeing more lords and ladies than I ever have and I wonder whether the dwindling nettle population is upsetting a natural balance. The children (and adults) are churning up the ground, the nettles aren’t growing, something else is taking over, ergo, are we negatively impacting the ecosystem?

If you want to extrapolate that into a global context, then we are doing the exact same thing to the entire natural world, hence the climate crisis. And on some level, every single business and enterprise figures that their mission or aim is important enough that it justifies the harm they are doing on an individual level. Are we any different?

The kids have to get to gymnastics, therefore this car ride is essential. The people need pineapples in February, so this boat needs to sail. The car industry needs to stay afloat, so they have to continually innovate new and creative products to replace old styles.

And then, Coronavirus happened: China’s emissions dropped by a third; the super-polluting air industry has all but ground to a halt; self-isolation has us staying home so lack of demand has slashed the price of petrol. Job insecurity means we’ve stopped buying all but essentials so retailers are reporting unprecedented losses and cancelling orders for future production.

The wheels of industry are grinding to a halt and the entire earth is breathing a huge sigh of relief. I think, on some small level, any of us who’ve been passionately and helplessly raging about the climate crisis are also experiencing something like relief that, despite the human cost, the cloud of Coronavirus has created a silver lining for the earth.

I’ve taken the very sad decision to cancel my forest school sessions in line with government advice to avoid all non-essential contact – and I wonder if our forest is also breathing a sigh of relief?

Part of me wants to drive over there and visit the woods – I suspect the trees miss hearing the sounds of laughter (and eavesdropping on all of the juicy gossip). But part of me is happy to spend some time exploring the natural spots closer to our home given that we have nowhere we actually have to be.

So I guess what will happen is that the woods will have a little break, things that shouldn’t have been growing might stop and things that need to be there might emerge. I’m looking forward to seeing what it looks like in a months time – even if we’re going to miss the cherry blossom.

So am I right? Is it ok to let the children do what they will if it means altering the eco-system? I don’t know. Is the global crisis caused by an industrial beast which justifies its wrecking of the climate by saying they’re only meeting demand a different beast to the mud in our woods? I don’t know. Is slowing down, staying home and finding new ways of doing everything the only solution to the climate crisis? I don’t know.

There’s so many things that I feel like I don’t know right now. Fortunately there is one things that I know for certain – the love and positivity that exists within our woodland family is real. I’ve received messages, calls and donations from people over the past few days to an extent that has been overwhelming. I have been brought to tears by the extraordinary generosity and unfailing support that’s been shown for the work I do. Our community has been there for several years now – helping families find friendship, support and emotional connection – and the importance of that has started to feel incredibly essential over the past few days.

Maybe we’re making a lot of mud. But we’re making a lot of other stuff too.

I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people who have donated in just one day. I am so grateful to all of you – many of you I don’t even know! We are all facing an uncertain financial future – so if you don’t have money to donate please don’t feel I’m any less grateful to you for reading. I would really appreciate you sharing my blogs – my subscribers have risen sharply in the past few days and that will help me more than you know.

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