Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The dreams of a dormouse . . .

Is it too late to say, "Stop!"?  Or, if not "Stop!", then what about, "Pause . . . " or, "Wait a little . . . "?
I know I'm in a minority when I say this, so I'll say it very quietly.

Why do we want new roads . . . new rail lines . . . new runways?  Why do we always want to travel faster . . . and further . . . and more often?

In a world increasingly linked by the finest and most sophisticated information technology . . . a world where, at any given moment we can span continents visually and audibly . . . why this compulsive need to travel?

Let me tell you a true story.
There was once a small Cornish fishing village.  Over the centuries it had derived its income from the sea, and was home to an integrated community.  There was a village school, a main street with shops for food, clothing and domestic needs, a well-supported village church.  If not enjoying a high degree of economic prosperity, the inhabitants were happy and content in the village they knew as home.  Their misfortune?  That their village was, in travel agents' terminology, 'picturesque'.

Were you to go there today you would, indeed, see a picturesque village.  It is no longer a fishing village, no fisherman could afford the refurbished stone cottages that surround the harbour.  The shops are no longer aimed at the residents, instead they are well-stocked with souvenirs and refreshments.  The school has gone, as have the local children.  The church receives many visitors, but few worshippers.  But probably the biggest structural change comes in the form of the vast, featureless car-park which greets you on arrival, and is now almost as large as the village itself . . . it needs to be, if it's to accommodate the constant daily surge of visiting cars and coaches.

I don't doubt that you know of many similar villages, 'picturesque' hot-spots exist all over the world.  But have you noticed the extent of our corrosive influence?  Once we, the tourists, have taken over an area it is no longer self-sufficient.  Instead, it becomes totally dependent on us.  Dependent on the invaders who offer the only remaining source of employment:  that of catering to our needs.

Yes, the travel industry has thrived and is an undoubted boost to the economy.  Yes, the air-lines keep their charges low and, whilst enabling all of us to take low-cost holidays, also rake in large profits.  Yes, we are entitled to travel and enjoy the beauties of other countries . . . and invite others to come and see ours . . . but, ultimately, at what cost?

Could there be a poem that highlights this problem?  Let's see  . . .

"There once was a Dormouse," writes to A.A. Milne, "who lived in a bed,
Of delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red). 
And all the day long he'd a wonderful view 
Of geraniums (red) and delphiniums (blue) . . . "

If you'd like to enjoy the full, poignant drama, and I strongly recommend it, click here.  But, to give you an abridged version, the dormouse's happy life was about to be rudely interrupted.

A well-meaning Doctor, convinced that no dormouse could possibly be happy and fulfilled under such conditions, prescribed a dramatic change.  This change involved not only stimulating travel, but also the dramatic removal of the delphiniums and geraniums which were replaced by less soporific chrysanthemums.

How did the dormouse respond to his transformed habitat?  He was not happy.
But, fortunately, he could resort to the blessings of an active imagination.  By closing his eyes he could pretend that the chrysanthemums had been transformed into his lost companions . . .

"The Dormouse lay happy, his eyes were so tight
He could see no chrysanthemums, yellow or white. 
And all that he felt at the back of his head 
Were delphiniums (blue) and geraniums (red)."

Is there a moral for us in this story?  No, not that we should spurn travel and chrysanthemums, but, instead, that we should start to appreciate the fragility of all that lies around us, the vulnerability of our natural world.

If we continue to roam roughshod . . . to congest and pollute . . . to overwhelm a finite planet, changing the nature of communities, destroying habitats and pushing plants and animals into extinction . . . will those remaining quiet corners, the tranquil hillsides, the peaceful shores, quickly disappear?

Could it be that, in the not too distant future, such scenes will only be available to those of us who can remember them . . . those of us who, like the dormouse, are able to curl up, close our eyes, and recreate in memory the delphiniums and geraniums that we loved so much?

True, we are an integral part of an ever-evolving universe . . . chrysanthemums, in many guises, have heralded revolutions down the ages . . . and this is a time of change, great change.

But change needs to be sensitive, beneficial and supportive to all forms of life.  If we reconsider our plans for yet more new roads, new rail routes and new runways, might it be possible to save some delphiniums and geraniums from premature extinction . . . ?
It's up to us.

                                                   *                    *                     *

(Do you share these concerns?  If so, as you may have noticed, I've high-lighted links to active campaigns that could interest you.)