The Great Disconnect

There is a huge disconnect between the human race and the natural world. This is nothing new, of course, it is something that has gradually been developing ever since man first discovered farming and began to live in settled communities rather than living a nomadic existence. But it has accelerated rapidly since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, until we passed the point where for the first time there were more people living in urban areas than in rural ones. That may seem an obvious fact to many in the Western World, but that statistic is a worldwide one. 55% of the population today is urban, but the spread is very uneven. In North America, for example, 82% of the population today are urban, whereas across Africa as a whole it is only 43%.

This creeping urbanisation has had many obvious consequences, such as the growth of villages into towns, and thence into cities and finally into super-sized metropolises covering hundreds of square kilometres with hardly a tree or a bird to be found in some parts. Such as whole villages being abandoned as the population move to towns to find work, partly due to the growing mechanisation of farming and the demise of traditional rural industries. Such as a rapidly shrinking amount of land that can be thought of as wilderness. Even those areas that are not now covered with an urban sprawl may well be covered with farmlands or plantations, or large areas devoted to leisure activities such as golf courses which as far as wildlife and plant diversity are concerned, are little better than deserts.

And such as a growing and deepening disconnect between humans and the natural world.

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In small part, this is natural and necessary; it is a process that is inevitable as we evolve from a species indistinguishable from the other great apes in behaviour and purpose, into a species able to pursue activities unrelated to simple survival.

Of course, we have also become a species capable of wiping out our species and all other species, too.

But this trend seems to have accelerated at an alarming rate over the last thirty to fifty years. Of course, urbanisation continues to be a growing trend, the growth of technology continues to feed into areas such as farming, where we now have huge farms that can be operated by a couple of people alone, which might have required a labour force of maybe a hundred once, and we have social media and computers and gaming and thousands of on-demand TV stations.

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This last phenomenon I think is mainly the cause of what appears to be an especially severe disconnect between the natural world and the younger generations.

Now before everyone rushes to tell me of wonderful younger folk who love the natural world and who actively fight to protect it citing, perhaps, the incredible people who make up Extinction Rebellion, obviously there are many exceptions to this. But it is a trend. Before I retired, my job was teaching outdoor activities such as climbing or navigating, and I worked with many children and young adults. The environment in which I worked, of course, was the natural world. And although many of the youngsters who came along lived in towns or cities, there were also many who lived nearby, in a more rural environment. And what shocked me, was that so many of them had no better understanding of that environment than those that lived in inner cities.

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I met country children that couldn’t recognise an oak tree or knew what an acorn was. Country children who couldn’t recognise a kestrel. Country children who had no idea what wild garlic was.

As a kid, I lived on the edge of London. I don’t think I was in any way exceptional, but I would spend as much time as I could playing with friends in the woods and fields I could walk to or get to on my bike. We splashed around in streams and climbed trees, learned what different butterflies looked like, 037bfound stag beetles and slow-worms, caught minnows and sticklebacks, and absorbed a lot of knowledge about trees and birds and insects and mammals from books and TV programs and just being out in the country.

I assumed it was what all kids did.

But this seems to be no longer the case. I have already written about The Lost Words (here), the book written by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris as a response to learning that supposedly common words such as conkerlost words and kingfisher and acorn are words that the majority of children today are unfamiliar with – something that would once have been unthinkable. And this disconnect seems to me the saddest thing. So much of our very rich heritage has a rural background, be it music or literature, architecture, leisure activities, or traditional crafts. And the same is naturally true for most countries and societies.

But to return to the reasons for this, I feel the rise of social media and on-demand electronic entertainment has been the largest single influence on the younger generation, especially, to the point where to the majority of them, pretty well all their leisure time is taken up with these things and there is no desire to explore the natural world at all.

Sometimes I think the electronic world is more real to many of them than the real world is, anyway.

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Sigh. I’m off to check the vegetable garden.

The Climber – 3

This is the third poem in my series ‘The Climber’. Links to the other 2 can be found at the bottom of the page.

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He breathes climbing.

 

He eats and sleeps climbing.

Hell, I guess he even farts climbing.

 

His would be the van you didn’t notice,

Parked unobtrusively in the farthest corner.

His, the life pared down to the bare minimum.

 

If asked, he might condescend to teach for a day,

To earn enough to buy some food.

For a week or more.

 

Or perhaps to go towards that new rope

That he really ought to get.

 

But he will resent the waste of his time,

When he might be climbing.

 

Just as he will, too, on those days when

The rain just falls and falls.

And he sits frustrated beneath the shelter,

Dispensing good advice and

Recounting adventures

To anyone who will listen.

 

Or muttering ‘Perhaps we should all move

To Spain, or Yosemite,

To somewhere it doesn’t rain

All the bloody time.’

 

But when the weather clears

His good humour will return

And he will be back on the crag.

 

Climbing any route you care to suggest.

Links:

The Climber 1

The Climber 2

The Climber 2

The second poem in my series. The first one can be found here.

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The Climber – 2

She is the lightest dancer.

 

High above the ground

She hangs from tiny holds that, really,

She has no right to be able to.

 

How can her weight,

Little as it is,

Be supported by that miniscule

Pinch-grip?

 

And more than that,

She seems to twirl,

To pirouette,

Up…

Up…

 

Into the clouds.

 

The Climber – 1

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A few days ago I went for a walk which included passing along the base of the crag where I was teaching climbing for all those years. It was a fine day, but I was the only one around – no one climbing, or even walking. As you do, I began idly looking at different climbs and visualising the moves I would need to climb them. It was then a few lines came to me that might constitute a poem on the subject.

I wandered around slowly, musing, jotting ideas down in my notebook.

Well, surprise, surprise. I now have several finished poems and will probably put them up here later this year as a series – perhaps once the climbing season has started again, and when I’ve decided what to illustrate them with.

But as a bit of a taster, here is the first one.

He steps one foot onto the thin ledge,

Hugging his body close to the rock face,

And slides,

Slowly,

His fingers walking up the wall,

Into balance.

 

He thrusts a leg out into space

And the watchers gasp.

Is he falling?

They move unconsciously away

From the base of the crag.

 

But no,

He keeps his balance.

 

Ah!

 

Now he reaches up

Up…

Just a little…

Further…

There!

 

Two fingers hook over

A thin flake of rock

And he scrambles up.

 

He smiles.

 

‘It’s all in the technique,’ he calls down.

‘Nothing to do with strength.’

 

The (Shy And) Retiring Type…

A few days ago, I made the decision to retire from my present job.

It is something I have been brooding over for some while, and having a little time and space to think while I walked on Dartmoor last week enabled me to finally accept a decision I had really come to some time before.

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For a long time I have instructed groups in an outdoor environment, in activities such as climbing, canoeing, navigation and team building. As I have got older, though, I have naturally found these activities both physically and mentally more demanding. After all, when you are responsible for people’s safety as well as teaching them skills, there is an added pressure on everything you do.

A number of other stresses in my life over the last year or so have not helped, especially as they are still ongoing.

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So as well as a sense of regret, there is certainly a great feeling of relief. Regret, because I have had a huge amount of both pleasure and satisfaction from this work, which has carried me through those times when I felt it was becoming all too much, but relief that now it is time to call it a day, as I have reached the point where I know I cannot carry on for much longer.

I love being in an outdoor environment. It is why I choose to go to hills and woods and mountains rather than towns and cities, and this was instrumental in my deciding to teach these activities in the first place. But the obverse of that coin is that so often I am unable to really enjoy being there, since I am entirely focused on my group and the activities – which is how it should be, of course.

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One thing I shall look forward to, then, is being able to enjoy that environment every time I am there, without constantly having to check everyone is safe, or ensuring the activities are taking place as they should be.

While I intend to bring a greater focus to my writing, and also to my painting, I will also have to find something to bring in a little money for the next couple of years until I reach the state retirement age. I’ve no idea what that will be, yet.

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Essentially, I just feel burnt out. It is a very intensive job, in the way that care work, for example, can be, and I know it is the right time to go. Otherwise, there is the risk I will begin to run sessions that no one will want to take part in.

And that’s not the way I want it to finish. Far better that people should ask why I am going, than they should ask why I have not gone before now.

Nepal – Everest Region

Everybody knows the statistics; Everest, also known as Sagarmatha by the Nepalese and Chomolungma by the Tibetans, is the highest mountain on Earth, at 29,028ft or 8848m. First successfully climbed in 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay from the British Expedition led by John Hunt, it has now been climbed by around 2,500 climbers. There have also been some 210 deaths on the mountain, or slightly more than one death for every 12 summiteers. A grim reminder that whilst nowadays if you have the money you can virtually buy your way to the top, it is still an extremely hazardous venture.

Everest from the summit of Mount Kala Pattar (5545m).  In the foreground is the Khumbu Glacier, the summit of Everest is the dark peak against the central skyline, with Everest West Shoulder directly in front and Nuptse (7879m), apparently the tallest peak in the picture, because of the perspective, to the right of them. Changtse (7550m) across the border in Tibet, is to the left. Lhotse (8501m) can be glimpsed to the right of Everest, behind Nuptse.

 

Cairns to climbers who have died on Everest, near Dhugla (Thokla). And a very sobering sight they are, too. Some have plaques, some simple inscriptions, many are anonymous. As you walk further up the Thokla Pass, you look back to this line of cairns on the ridge.

 

Local transport. A caravan of dzo – a cross between cattle and yaks – pass stone seats provided for travellers. Dzo tend to be both larger and stronger than yaks, an obvious advantage in an animal used for carrying heavy cargoes! They can also go down to lower altitudes than yaks, who are adapted for life at high altitudes.

 

Traditional door in old house, Khumjung village, near Namche Bazaar.

 

Inside The temple of Tengboche monastery. Although the temple is beautiful both inside and out, my dominant memories are of sounds – the chanting of the monks at puja, when I sat in the temple one afternoon, completely unable to meditate, since I could not focus on anything except my freezing feet. Also the sounds of the bells, drums and horns that woke me at 7 o’clock in the morning – beats an alarm clock any time!

Entrance to Tengboche Monastery and Temple.

 

Khumbu Glacier at Lobuche.

 

Ama Dablam from Khumjung village. In the foreground is one of the schools built by Sir Edmund Hillary, rightly revered throughout the Sherpa community for the huge amount of work that he and his Foundation put into improving the lives of the poor in this area.

 

Traditional house in Khumjung.

 

Himalayan Accentor on top of a cairn on Nagartsang Peak . This is a 5083m ‘Trekking’ Peak, ie one that can be ascended without having to use climbing skills. Apparently in America cairns are referred to as ‘ducks’, due to their shapes. So, for American bloggers: Bird on Duck.

Looking down onto the Khumbu Glacier . Although looking rather like a rubble-strewn pathway, in places one can see the bluey-green ice. Here it shows clearly around a glacial lake. As I watched, I could hear the sounds of cracking and splitting as the glacier ground it’s way incredibly slowly downhill.

 

Yak skull on mani stone with katas (silk scarves) and prayer flags. Cairns are not always simple piles of stones.

 

Yak train crossing new bridge near Phunki Drengka. The old bridge was washed away.

 

The old bridge. Testament to the tremendous power of floodwater. 

 

Khumjung Gompa, where a yeti skull is kept.

 

The yeti skull.

 

Sunset, and Ama Dablam appears through the clouds.

 



Looking south from Dengboche.

 

The Spirit of the Himalaya.

 

Moody autumn shot just outside Lukla.

 

Nuptse (on left) and Everest (on right) at sunset, from Tengboche. In February 2008, when I visited, I saw nothing but clouds and mist. When I returned in October we were treated to the most marvellous sunset and sunrise.

 


Monks blowing conch shells at morning puja, Tengboche monastery. The monks at the top left hand window are blowing the shells that make a hoarse, trumpet-like sound, during the sunrise puja.

 

Autumn colours.

 

Prayer wheels.

 

Ploughing a field with a wooden, dzo-drawn plough.

 

Namche Bazaar from above.

 

Carved Mani stone near Tengboche.