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Spring?

“Time and change are connected to place. Real change is best understood by staying in one place. When I travel, I see differences rather than change. I resent travelling south in early spring in case I am away from home when I see my first tree coming into leaf. If this happens, I see the leaves, but not the growth or change.” [Andy Goldsworthy]



The equinox is not yet here, day’s shadows shorten but moon is still queen of the skies. And yet something is different. Haven’t the birds always been singing? But here they are, foregrounded. Irrepressible. Joyous. Green buds bursting winter skeletons, new season’s life tentatively unfurling, gambling on a sudden feeling. Daffodils and bumblebees. My own body responding to the call – a quickening, thickening of the blood, eros stirring like a memory.


Spring. But can it be?


What is spring doing in February? Has it always done this? I don't think so, but maybe. My memory certainly isn’t certain. It’s tempting to start attributing almost any environmental phenomenon to climate change, and that’s bad science. But there is value in our embodied, experiential proclivity for pattern-recognition, pattern-disruption. Perhaps also here the language is unhelpful: ‘Climate change’ is tautologous; ‘Global warming’ is apparently misleading;[1] ‘Global weirding’ might be more felicitous.


Settling again at Beech Hill and starting to grow and make things I’m slowly becoming more conscious of the subtle shifts in season, the flow of biological time. Previously, whilst growing up, studies, angst, travel, and supermarkets disrupted my animal rhythms, my attention to place. Did you know that outdoor strawberries are ripe for only 5-6 weeks? Or make the link between squash season and Halloween? Or notice which songbirds are migratory? I confess I didn’t. But my parents did, who grew up eating much more seasonally a single generation back. Mum has also been wondering about the cold easterly winds we’ve been experiencing more of in recent memory. And what about the disconcerting lack of insects clogging up motorway windscreens?[2]

“In Arizona, in the summer, the pinyon pines don’t smell like they used to, says Nikki Cooley [who grew up on Diné nation land without running water or electricity], and the wind sometimes feels in error, like it’s blowing the wrong way, at the wrong time of year. She knows these are feelings, not data, but she is measuring them nonetheless.”[3]


If the world is weirding, what then? What does ‘weird’ even mean? The weather’s never been very certain. And therein lies my worry – how can we plan for climatic shifts on a geological timeline, when the very unreliability of the weather-people is a cliché? Here at Beech Hill we’ve been thinking about and planting trees, reading up on regional adaptation and typical ‘likes/dislikes.’ The Italian Alder (alnus cordata) comes recommended as more tolerant of drier conditions than our own native of the family – perhaps a more reliable choice for nitrogen-fixation and soil building.[4] But will it fulfil the same ecological niches here? How can we choose what species will “work” 20, 50, 100 years from now? Is this really just a question of data? What are all of the variables? How do they interact?


The complexity is certainly beyond me. But my sense is that it is beyond all of us. Life is fundamentally mysterious. The world hasn’t always been as it is, and won’t stay as it is now. Everything is constantly in flux, in flow. And I am profoundly concerned by industrial civilisation’s analytical hubris and fascination with control, whether through geo-engineering, AI, or polytunnels. As if we know what’s what, as if we can take things apart and understand the whole, as if the secret to life, the universe, and everything is just over the next technological horizon.


I believe there is hope, but it lies in trusting and honouring what nature has been doing for un-told millenia: adapting, changing, growing, decaying. Living, holistic systems are infinitely more evolved, adaptive, and resilient than static, fragmented, isolated ones.


What this actually looks like at Beech Hill we’re still discovering.


Outside, the birds are singing.




[1] “Ice storm rolls from Texas to Tennessee - I'm in Los Angeles and it's freezing. Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!” (Trump, 2013)

[2] C. Eisenstein, Climate: a new story (North Atlantic Books, 2018)

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/everything-is-not-going-to-be-okay-how-to-live-with-constant-reminders-that-the-earth-is-in-trouble/2019/01/24/9dd9d6e6-1e53-11e9-8b59-0a28f2191131_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.69851c443a74

[4] Martin Crawford (professional tree-wizard)


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