Justine Huxley writes, “Every spring these stunning beings unfurl their petals and grace our garden with scarlet glory. Their colour is so vivid they seem like messengers from another world. Two days later all their petals are fallen, scattered on the earth around them. This year it got to me. I found myself filled with unbearable sadness that something so intensely beautiful can be so short lived. And I realised this was a reflection of how I feel about the coming relaxation of lockdown.
For many, many people around the world, the restrictions have created incredible isolation, financial hardship. fear and shortage of food and the basics of life. A return to work is urgently needed. Alongside that knowledge, I cannot help but grieve for the more than human world which has had a few short months reprieve from human domination, able to breathe and relax and reveal its magic. It hurts to think of all that life and beauty being once again pushed to the margins and drowned out by human noise, trash and pollution.
Like many others, I’m sitting with this question: How can we retain some of the positive changes the pandemic generated and not simply return to our previous destructive model.
In my small, diverse, social housing community, our shared garden has become a focal point. For the first time, we have tomatoes, beans, courgettes, cabbages and strawberries growing between the rose bushes. My neat and tidy neighbours agreed to keep a corner rewilded for bees, butterflies and insects and protect it from the council gardeners with their ruthless strimmers (no small victory). Several of my neighbours have learned the names of the birds who visit the feeder (goldfinches, coal tits, green parakeets and once even a tiny firecrest). Since our campaign to save them from destruction, many are now noticing our two 150 year old oak trees, appreciating them with new eyes, recognising how much life they support. One family secretly leaves food out for the foxes at night. And some have even begun to look more kindly on the community of pigeons, who roost in two family groups on our rooves.
Through the medium of our garden, we humans have also got to know each other well. Before lockdown, people lived behind closed doors, rarely doing more than greet each other in passing. Within a few weeks of our confinement, we were swapping phone numbers, collecting shopping and checking in on each other, sharing in each others fears and struggles. We were gardening together, eating lunch together outside, sharing random boxes of cupcakes, walking dogs for each other and even carefully managing croquet matches (all at an appropriate social distance, armed with handgel and masks). There is a feeling of being in something together, and noticeably greater tolerance for our differences – which are considerable. It’s not perfect, and there are still folks who are missing, but we are a much more interconnected community.
When I sit on my balcony or look out of my window I see the unfurling potential for the trees, the birds, the unseen world and all my human neighbours, with their different ages, cultures and languages, to co-exist in a new way.
These sinple, joyful things could be the building blocks of peace. Peace with each other, peace with Earth. Even within a future of increasing collapse and disintegration, the power to live this way in our own microcommunities remains in our own hands.