a roof of stars

star tree blue star tree blue

Image copyright Laura Joy

I'm a writer and a traditional musician living in Sussex with a love for the natural world and for walking in it in particular.  I thought this was as good a time as any to offer some thoughts as we all grapple with our new reality.  Most of my time lately has gone towards another book and that's ongoing though I hope I'll have something to show for my efforts very soon.  I wish all my readers well as we all navigate this slightly strange horizon.  I look forward to the day we all can meet again, free of restrictions and able to see this old world with new eyes.

By Jim Hindle, Jun 20 2020 03:14PM

listen and you’ll hear the silent pulse

of languid anglers in their linear host

Glastonbury week and all the small town dogs were pulling strings. But I wasn’t going there. Not to Glastonbury. It was a fierce June day, the tarmac was melting on the streets - which was bizarre because the man at the bar in the pub said he laid tar for a living, only on roofs for his part, not on the now liquefying roads. It was his day off at any rate and he’d been at a funeral. The bikers had been out, Hell’s Angels, to see off one of their own and later, having heard him talk about them, it was almost like they’d been crowding in the pub there with us, though the impression of this may have had something to do with the heat, or the beer.

Even then, half an hour later, lying in the little shade on the station’s single platform, watching the royal train hurtle by and feeling somehow let down that it hadn’t stopped, there seemed some sense of promise in the air. I left the station later in the absence of boardable trains and made my way up along the canal, the metal frame of the canvas rucksack heavy on my back.

I’d slept by a river the night before, in between it and the canal, a tributary snaking off directly opposite where I’d pitched my tent in the rough of the woods. This other body of water dropped away out of sight between two sandstone pillars but the noise of the invisible weir made its presence more than obvious and it lulled me into a kind of trance as I sat there, eating frugally from my ex-army hexi-block stove, wondering just when I’d have to get inside my old-school ridgepole tent to escape the midges. There in the twilight, surrounded by trees and the sound of the water and the simple fatigue from having been walking all day, it felt like many things suddenly made some kind of extra sense, or amounted to some sense of heightened awareness that was more about the peace of place than anything cerebral. That sense has not entirely left me even now.

The walk had been a kind of induction to canals, from the crusties squatting in the disused railway grounds by the towpath in Oxford, being disparaging about the size of my rucksack (a criticism that strangers are prone to making two decades later) to the silent pulse of lines of anglers that populated much of the rest of the way. The flat-backed brown of factories north of the city slowly gave way to green fields and thickly overhanging sycamores and I’d return to Oxford later on, walk along other waterways, begin to grow familiar with willows. Tolkien knew these rivers well, and the Cherwell which I sat by that evening and which runs so close to the Oxford canal, chimes in with his description of ‘a dark river of brown water, bordered with ancient willows, arched over with willows, blocked with fallen willows, and flecked with thousands of fallen willow leaves.’

In meadows further on I met a couple of fellow travellers, tied dyed and purple and red in early-nineties archetypal glory and it was like an initiation, the height of things, the rolling call of summer on the move so that even the dual carriageways, where the water and footpath passed beneath them, seemed to help define the things they weren’t; the things that summer held that the carriageways’ constant scour of tires on concrete didn’t hold and simply never could.

It had been one of many walks that summer, the first a walk to a girlfriend in a village out on the edge of the fens. It took me three days walking, two nights under a tarp or a tree, skirting reservoirs and long, low paths and villages with older women half deranged with solitude or just with the green of the hills. And at the very end, in the kitchen of the old farmhouse my girlfriend’s family called home, there was a sweetness half made up of every yard and mile I’d covered, knowing it had bought this moment closer. There was a sense of timelessness, of being far removed from phones or networks, even from roads and travel at high speed. The old house stood in witness to all this, like the building knew us all already and somehow smiled on us all being there.

Up at the end of the towpath, or at least the end of it for me, past scores of boaties offering me tea, the fields of the camp laid themselves out with the sense of something now fulfilled, the village full of alleyways and déjà vu, the beer as sweet as anything I could remember. It was a first induction to a summer on the paths and tracks and what it meant to be out walking all day long. The flattened fields of Fens and what led to them, the starlit market towns, the paths that led up to the hills and borders and the country on their other side – these things all lay in wait or stretched behind in diminishing perspectives as all the new paths opened out. For now there was just that weekend and everything that summer held; all tiredness transformed with the knowledge of an immanent arrival.

By Jim Hindle, May 11 2020 01:28PM

And so the days roll on. Has it been two months now? Even longer? We wait for a change in the days, some uptick of experience where we can all walk bold and bright and put away this tribulated moment.

Is it enough for now to think of the bird on the bough, the flower ringing loud from out the wood? Spring is still a heady brew, the jackdaws make their way from roof to roof, scavenging the gleanings in the tiles and wrens sing out like crests of sun made audible, a buzzard soaring somewhere like a memory of grace.

And can we still believe or even dream that there was once some kind of covenant, a pledge between the world and us, when we were humble husbands and the earth was vast and it never seemed there’d come a day when her resources would ever run scarce?

I walk through the invisible arms of the green in the air and only know that this is our inheritance, as sure as the ground and the sun and wonder whether, if we still took care of all the world would that improve our worldly lot, the sum of our existence in our too-brief lives that are spun down generations past and generations still to be so that we are no less a part of this unbroken chain than the thrush in the dawn of the day.

When the virus has played out, when immunity grows or the vaccines come good or we somehow fudge or stumble or calculate our way into some sense of better reckoning will we remember all this? That we are as dependant on the leaf of each tree as they are upon our every action when we hold such great responsibility? We have a chance, if only just, to change our ways and that is a charge for for each and every one of us in our collective surge – for just as surely as we hunker down in flats or bedsits or other dwellings relatively palatial, humanity is at a crest of knowing how we all can be, alone together as the saying is but reaching out as if and in the knowledge that our very lives depend on it, depend upon it like the air that drifts so sweet down city streets as we enjoy deliverance from engines.

We can point fingers at wet markets, the demand for wild meat in certain far flung corners of the globe, even if it’s useless now to cast the blame. We can draw quite obvious conclusions, anthropomorphise the natural world when anthropocentricism arguably forms much of our original sin. If this was the will of the world we have wounded can making reparations in our will and intent and every action help right the ship? Whatever the cause, however meaningful or arbitrary, there’s certainly poetic truth that this human crisis rides on the back of that of our ecology.

As wiser minds than mine have pointed out ecology and economy share the same root; ‘Oikos’ in Greek. ‘Oikos’ translates as home, ‘Logos’ as knowledge. ‘Nomos’ as management. And so ‘ecology’ gives us ‘the knowledge of home’ where ‘economics’ mean ‘the management of home’. How can you manage a thing you don’t know? We cannot have one without the other. Just as home means a place for the family, ecology implies a knowledge of the families we share this planet with.

Would it help in our hour of need to promise to the world outside our doors that when we all come through from this we’ll make a place again for the green in our lives; honour it, give back to it, make a greater space for it in our hearts and in that of our children?

We all know that so much of what we’re going through is far from easy. Nothing I say here is meant to make light of or ignore the challenges so many people are dealing with. But we all know the situation as it is; it doesn't need further rehearsal here. Suffice to say we still have choices in how respond to all this, with the attitude and stance we choose to meet it.

The very experience of having something so fundamental as human proximity removed can counter-intuitvely hold a strange potential, an enforced denial that will make our eventual freedoms all the sweeter when they are finally restored. We will certainly be less likely to ever take them for granted again. Temporary separation can strengthen our inner reserves. Even as we open up to one another, reach out across seeming divides, our spirits tempered by the distances but still unbowed, we can all walk out of this the stronger, warmer, ready to make the most of every moment, to not turn a blind eye to given opportunities, to see each neighbour as a sign of, an expression of humanity itself.

And we have the chance, made all the starker by any dwelling on mortality, to step up to take care of the living green lungs of our forests, the bloodstream of our rivers and oceans, the land itself, the very earth: our heart. For we’re bound to protect this as surely as we care for one another, as surely as when this current crisis is finished it will feel like stepping out from a cave, into a world all the newer, the brighter, its potential simply ringing in our ears.

By Jim Hindle, Apr 5 2020 02:26PM

Is this the time to look for compensation? At least we finally can say it’s truly Spring. Those that can will walk and listen to the birdsong and maybe even find a little peace; unlooked for or prayed for, unlikely but making a pure kind of sense. God knows we need such moments. A friend of mine watches a raven for how long he doesn’t quite know. Others gather weeds along newly familiar paths. I shelter from the suddenly seasonal sun, think about summer, feel a strange sense of assurance that might have nothing and everything to do with my own one temporal fate.

Will things be different after all of this? Will the flights resume, the factories stutter back into some kind of guttural life? Bars, cafes, shops stammer open like nothing has happened at all and we’ll wipe away the salt of weeks alone or crammed in close confinement? Gratitude right now seems pretty likely; a bloody-minded courtesy, acknowledging we still can breathe, we still can take in each day in the air like it was our first.

And somehow we must all of us come through; survivors, witnesses, beleaguered or hopeful and strong. It’s no time for sweeping statements, triumphalist crows that we know when the end is in sight, or that this is all part of some grand scheme of nature, that there is reason for this other than some random roulette. We can give in to terror, despair but we might as well be optimistic or look for very major silver linings.

It’s not some random fantasy to say there may be some grace in this, or chance of it, if we can take the perspective that we might in the long run be getting thrown a line. A frenetic world of global commerce, global travel has just hit the brakes. We might as well enjoy the sudden peace. We have a chance to stop and think, reflect on the lives we’ve been leading. Can we imagine our way out of this?

Maybe we’ll be able to step forward into a world where just-in-time networks of supply and demand are replaced by something more resilient, that we can source and grow the goods we need a little closer to home, where we’re all weaning off a glut of luxury but still live well and maybe a little more honestly, not dependent on imports whose source we can’t name, where conditions of labour or livestock are hushed out of sight. Maybe we’ll see a return of the domestic economy, hollowed out in the 20’s and 30’s, where we’re all a little more self-reliant. How many containers of latest electronics does the world really need? How much of our once innate ability to source our needs at home or close to it are we happy to continue to acquiesce? How much do we really want to spend large parts of our working week in little boxes, hurtling their cargo to horizons whose value we’ve only too nearly forgotten?

No one would wish these times on another or any others we do not consider our clan. For we all connected now, connected in brightness and grief. But we owe it to ourselves and one another, to everyone huddled in hospital beds and most of all to the children to see there are gifts here if we can only see them as such. Somebody somewhere appeared to hit pause and now we can think and plan and even dream. We can think on the state of the planet today, her all-too-clear signs of distress, how we can help her, the habits we can break, how we can renew our commitments (or make them at all if now new), how we can seek to redeem the unspoken bond we have broken, a rift that may have something to do with our current plight, as if our collective survival rests in a natural corrective.

Whether we see the virus as a desperate manifestation of the will of the world to endure or something far more arbitrary is arguably besides the point. Whatever the reason for it and whatever our thoughts, we can see that while no one would wish for the virus, it’s still giving us a chance. The kind of world we all step into when the its threat recedes may depend on the degree to which we can reimagine our world, reimagine our place upon it, how we can serve it, cast away the things that hinder or obstruct.

We’re used at times like these to being told we are enduring a great trial, are being put to the test, tempered, told we must be strong. And all of these are true. We can pull upon the deep well of our inner reserves; our patience, compassion and will to endure. We can show the extent of collective resolve, our ability to adapt and our strength in adversity’s face. And we can meditate on that which can bring us all peace; our own peace of mind and that of those all around us; at times like these its necessity is only made clearer than ever.

But there’s another element as well; that we are being given opportunities, if we can see them. The degree to which we can make the most of them may depend upon our ability to walk with eyes open, to imagine, and dream again, dream harder. Our future remains a thing we can all of us shape. We now have a chance to just stop and slow down and reflect how we do so. We have a little time. And perhaps time is all that is called for, for now, that all our haste and rush, our daily and global migrations, our obsession with efficiencies has been for so long such a part of the problem. We have the chance to remember to just be ourselves; an estrangement its high time to heal.

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