“Being an old farm boy myself, chickens coming home to roost never did make me sad; they’ve always made me glad.” ~ Malcolm X.
My first memory of realizing the awesomeness of nature, the truly astonishing wonder of it all was a view of the night sky from the deck of an ocean liner. I was not quite eight. My family was emigrating from the UK to Jamaica (the reverse of most people at that time) and like many travelers, the sea was the way to get from point A to point B most economically. It was past my bedtime; I may have already been asleep when my father came to take me and my brother Andrew up on deck. The sea was an inky navy blue at night, but the sky. The sky was packed full of stars, we could identify Orion, the Plough, the Big Dipper, and oh, the Milky Way!
The emotional feeling remembered from that night was not so much appreciation as embarrassment. My mother had efficiently purchased (that’s if they weren’t home- made) robes for my brother and me, robes made from a toweling material. They could double as beach robes in the day-time. My biggest concern that night was that everyone (who on earth is everyone?) would see me the next day at the pool and recognize the robe! But imprinted on my memory now is my father making sure we had a chance to witness the glorious stars, and the memory of that sky.
When you are privileged to grow up in the country, you become aware of the natural rhythm of life. You can see the journey from living creature to the meal on your table, you may even hear the squeals of the pig being butchered, the goat begging for one more day, the chicken squawking, running for dear life! You get to hunt for eggs every day, not just Easter. You can pick your own mint for your tea, pick tomatoes ripe from the vine, eat fruit till ‘you belly bus!’ (bursts!). The cycle of life is in full view. When the country is a tropical island, you learn to estimate time from the length of your shadow; you watch the water cycle in real time as clouds at first wispy, build and build and rise and darken until they rupture into a torrential downpour, large drops cutting your skin like molten icicles.
When you are growing up you don’t necessarily appreciate the lessons you are being taught, it is in hindsight that they resonate. If your childhood was rich in culture and steeped in tradition but low in liquid assets, it is by comparison with your present wealth that you realize how poor you are now. To be surrounded by natural beauty, to smell the rain before it falls, to rise with the wake-up call of the rooster and never need an alarm, these things now have a richness and worth that make smart phones seem jaded.
I took my grandchildren to the Everglades last weekend, courtesy of a wake-up call from my friend and school-mate, the Beloved Audrey Peterman, a motivational environmental activist (really hard to pack her life of purpose into a few words). She joined the Artist in Residence at the National Park for a talk about the Maroons of Florida (fellow Jamaicans, did you know that those enslaved Africans who ran away were also known as Maroons in the USA?) and more. The Everglades was one place they made their home, also the Keys, and the nearby Bahamas. Being mindful of the age and attention span of my grandchildren, I had to miss part of the talk, and we went off on our own ‘Glades adventure, wandering down the Anhinga trail.
I remembered a trip I made with my two eldest children and my parents, at a similar time of year. My kids had been about the same age then as my grandkids are now, and it was the same mix of appreciation and impatience they felt. But the park rangers this weekend provided us with a book of activities, and my granddaughter was entertained in checking off palm trees and cypress trees, vultures and egrets, and of course, the dreaded alligators (XXXXXX). Until she hit the wall, tired, listless, can we go home now? Her older brother was still lively, mimicking the anhinga perched on a wall, in their classic outstretched wings pose. I knew that even if in the moment the kids were not as fascinated, not as locked in as their tablets can hold them, later in life they would talk in fondness of that day in the Everglades. We didn’t see the Milky Way, but it was out there.
There were signs around the park of one of nature’s tricks, the forest fire. There were burnt saw palmetto trees, blackened yet still standing, indicating past fires. We are told these fires clear out old brush and make way for new growth. These destructive forces come through from time to time to cleanse and renew. Nature’s aggressive Spring cleaning. I remember reading years ago, that outbreaks of pandemics and other natural disasters are things that keep population growth in check. A violent form of correction that may seem objectively effective, but very cruel on a personal level.
The saying goes that it is an ill wind that bloweth no man good (written in 1546!) and we need to appreciate the good in everything. For some of us the corona virus is a reminder of the basics – hand hygiene (done correctly!); cough and sneeze etiquette; keeping our areas clean. But unfortunately, as I read in an excellent article recently, our health system has been run so mean and lean, that there is no cushion to allow for large numbers of people needing to be isolated and cared for. A system which is driven (in many sectors) by profit margins, by capitalist goals, does not have the capacity to account for sudden influx of very sick people. Our nurses, our front-line workers are already working at their maximum capacity. And their numbers will be diminished if they are not properly protected either through lack of supplies or lack of adequate rest and repair. The chickens are coming home to roost.
If you can this weekend, take yourself to the wide open spaces to be found in a National Park near you. There you will glimpse the longevity and patience of Mother Nature, a woman with no need for clocks or calendars. It will remind you that your worries are tinier than a grain of sand; that you are in control of very little in this life, so take a deep breath and cleanse your soul. And if you are live in an area of low light pollution, please go outside at night and picture my father carrying me, showing me the panoply of the heavens, opening my eyes to the glory of the universe.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!