Picking blackberries from hedgerows, making daisy chains, collecting acorns, playing conkers, wandering the fields looking for rabbits, daydreaming under a tree on a sunny day. These are the precious memories of my childhood when my relationship with animals and the natural world became an integral part of my imagination and personality. I was lucky enough to grow up in the late sixties before the age of parental paranoia and health and safety fanaticism. Children were allowed personal freedom to explore the world, test their bodies and minds, learn about risk, learn about the magic of nature. But times have changed. We live in an age of fear, much of it unfounded. Kids spend more time alone with their tablets than playing outdoors. I was sad to learn that the 2008 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary aimed at children between the ages of 7 and 9 has omitted the following ‘nature’ words believing they are no longer relevant.
The obsolete words are catkin, brook, acorn, buttercup, blackberry, conker, holly, ivy, mistletoe. No doubt they have been replaced by technology words like database, spreadsheet, voicemail, pixel.
Contact and knowledge of the natural world are essential to a child’s artistic and spiritual development, be it poetry, visual art, music. How will future generations learn to cherish other living things and respect their environment if they don’t even have the right words?
A mermaid delivered the note, handwritten in wavering purple ink.
She chose a secret location on Long Island at midnight.
Strictly no pictures, no questions and I must come alone.
She said she admired my honesty and the scoop on Leonard Cohen.
The tide was out, the mist was in and it looked like a no show
when suddenly she appeared by the rocks, lapping quietly at my feet.
She wore a blue mac. A fedora pooled shadows over her eyes. Such an honor to meet you, I began. Thanks for letting me tell your story.
This is not about me, well not much, she said.
Her voice rippled and skipped through the dark. It’s about you guys. My warnings
aren’t getting through, not
even the tsunami of 04. You morons
have short memories and no understanding
of omens. We don’t know where we went wrong, me
and Neptune. We were good parents. Fuck knows
we tried our best. Ever since you crawled
onto dry land you’ve lost your way.
What do you mean exactly? I asked. I told you no questions, she replied and a cold wave rose up and slapped me in the face.
We sent clear signs, reminders every day. It’s hard work
maintaining the tides, the rhythm, all that pulling
and pushing to teach you the value of self-discipline, of balance
and how to give and take. We’re sick
of your abuse and the shit you dump in the water. I could
go on and on but I’m not here to give another
lecture cos the truth is, you’re screwed. No,
I’m here to tell you I’m quitting.
Neptune hitched a ride to Andromeda
five years ago. He sent a postcard last month
and says he’s doing swell. I stayed behind, hoping
for change but now your time is up. There’ll be no
more marinara pizza, no more calamari fritters, no
more weekends hanging out at the beach and no
more yachting holidays for the jet set. There’ll be no
more clouds with silver linings and no
more rain on your dahlias. You will be forever grounded.
I’m off to Orion for my new job as Head of Desert Prevention.
My advice in these dying days is to forget love, it will fail you.
Read Dostoevsky and respect your cat, he is wiser than you know.
And before I could protest, she disappeared,
dancing and leaping into a vortex of spray.
Early alarm, Tuesday, already. Sales meeting at nine-thirty. Me in dog house
probably. Power shower. Red or black, white or cream, toast or cereal?
Remember buy bread today. Clean teeth, empty dishwasher. Feed cat.
Defrost fish, clean shoes, forgot to floss. More tea. Leave note to milkman,
check e-mail. Turn on Radio 4; spies, lies, Brexit, austerity, food banks.
Trump bombs terror, sunshine, showers, intervals, fog in parts. Think positive.
Check bag; keys, iPhone, Mars Bar, Polos, Panadols, tampons, luminiser,
lipstick, mascara, tissues, iPad, pen, comb, compact mirror, sanitiser.
Stop for cash and petrol. Text boss. Idiot! Check hair, OK?
Lock door. Running late, play Taylor Swift, take short cut, Camster Cairns,
single track floating, peat bog, passing space, sleeping sheep, speeding car.
Archaeologists believe the 3,000 year old leather pouch discovered at Camster Bog
speaks the fate of a young queen from the Plastic Period who, through folly
or misadventure, was deemed to have failed to please the Gods Apple, Mars
and Pan on whose benevolence her people depended. She made blood sacrifice.
The pouch contained phallic objects adorned with the names of her lovers;
Elizabeth Harden, Max Fatter and Christi Door suggesting that Plastics enjoyed
multiple partners in frenzied fertility rites. Androgyny was inevitable as male
potency and sperm count decreased. Simple signalling and recording devices
typically used by breeding queens to attract a mate were also found at the site.
Technos hope to retrieve images which may explain why Plastics self -destructed
by releasing gender bender chemicals into the wild until the rivers ran red.
No-one noticed precisely when they began to vanish one by one, without fanfare or farewell. Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Hercules, King Cepheus, The Eagle, The Ram, The Swan, The Whale, Orion and The Unicorn quietly fled. No more wishes were left in the world but we pretended all was well.
Some blamed nuclear power, pollution, the depleting ozone layer. Some blamed GM foods and the lack of home-grown carrots. Some said the whole thing had been a lie, a false symbol of hope, Christian propaganda, like the virgin birth and the three wise men. They claimed the skies had always been an empty wasteland.
Some blamed a capitalist/militarist conspiracy, superpower lasers and Chem Trails had dissolved every twinkle. The Russians accused America. America accused everyone else. As the nights hardened Daesh celebrated with mass decapitations. Shrunken heads on poles made lanterns for the new caliphate.
At first we stopped going out, hid beyond the flicker of pixels. But then Bot-Cops, plasma torches, quantum lights were invented. The moon persevered in his solitary orbit. Children sang sky shanties, hung fake stars from silk ribbons. Sales of glitter and luminous paint rocketed. But then we all forgot, became too busy to look up.
When the moon began to shrivel like an old man’s testicle, no-one noticed.