Monday, 13 February 2017

Deep roots are not reached by frost.

A couple of months ago, as happens every so often, I was sent a survey from a student discount organisation with which I have an account. Often I completely disregard these - and if I do complete them, it's the multiple choice answers only, I'm never engaged enough to write anything longer.

This particular survey, however, was from the Woodlands Trust. I'm a Zoology student and a conservationist, and it's safe to say that I care about trees, so I was more than willing to put in a little extra effort. The questions were as you would expect, until one in particular: "Is there any tree in your life with special significance?". I can imagine a lot of people answered a quick 'no' to this question and asked themselves what sort of a person did have a significant tree in their life. 

I am the sort of person that does. My community are the sort of people who do.

A month or so after, when I was home from university at Christmas, I took my dog on a walk of which a part passed through an disused quarry near my home. There are several gravel pits like this in our area: one has been brilliantly transformed into a nature reserve, and another is on its way to becoming equally as good (credit for both of which is owed to Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust, not the quarry company). This, the third, is as much a quarry as when it was in use, except that it's deserted. It consists of 'danger' signs and fences, graffiti-ed walls, tracks from dirt bikes and dystopian, lonely, abandoned machines. A path through this wreckage - of which an 'attempt' has been made to salvage by planting some scrubby trees and grassland herbs - leads up and onto a beautiful agricultural field and a wood. On the walk up this path, we encountered an older lady, walking poles in hand and waterproof on, who was stopped and staring over the gravel pit.

"Do you know if they'll manage to do this to the field up there?" she asked.

Her eyes were looking both at the quarry and beyond it into the past, and her tone quavered slightly with emotion. She told me about the times when this marred landscape was a field - when she was young, she said, her family used to walk through it and down into Waterford to the river. She remembered it as green and natural and whole. She, like me, had lived in the area her whole life - but she, unlike me, saw the transformation of this rural, greenbelt beauty into quarry.

We both knew that the opportunity for me to experience it was less that a hair's breadth away, because the field above us was under threat. The feeling hung heavy on the air. It was windy and rainy, desolate weather to match the mood, and her eyes were probably only watering from the cold - but there was enough emotion as we spoke that it could have been tears. My heart felt heavy.

What lightens my heart - what gives me, and her, and many other people in my community hope that this quarry may not come to pass - is the conviction and force with which the locals have risen up in defence of our greenbelt land.

There is a tree in the centre of this field - the Lonely Oak, we've always called it. This is our Significant Tree, and it has come to represent everything we value about the countryside we are so lucky to live beside, that we want to protect. When I saw that question in that survey, and I found myself writing what must have been paragraphs of answer in the small box beside it, I knew I had to write this post.

The truth is, I haven't managed to be that involved in the campaign. I've been too caught up in school work, too busy, too distracted - which only makes me value more the people who have invested so much in it. I'm writing to talk about these people, and this tree, and the strength of the community standing up for it.

This photo belongs to the Stop Bengeo Quarry website,

The force behind this tree, protecting this land which I've loved and lived in and walked through my whole life, is overwhelming. It is a kind of tireless dedication to fundraising and spreading awareness that I did not expect, and it fills me with overwhelming pride. There have been surveys; letters to councillors; petitions; articles in the local paper; videos; meetings; posters; family walks; activities celebrating the field and its natural beauty; bag sales; a fun day to raise money and awareness...the list goes on. The Lonely Oak stands adorned by ribbons and posters; tokens of the love of our people for the greenbelt countryside we grew up in, that we want our children to grow up in.

This is a field that I have adored. A field my family, my friends, my dogs have adored. It's where we walked every Boxing Day since before I was born to get to the pub at Chapmore End; where I took small steps as a toddler and escaped to on summer evenings as a teenager and screamed at the sky on a run when heading towards adulthood was becoming too much. It's where my dog loses his toys and where Red Kites land in the Lonely Oak, and where I go with my Mum to catch up with each other's lives.

It's a field that I don't want to lose. I don't want my community to lose it. I don't want the next generation to be unaware of what it was, to breathe air filled with dust from the quarry, to be kept up by the noise or to drink water that's tainted by it. 

I'm so proud of the people who've taken this into their hands, proud that so many people share this strong attachment to such a simple place. 

It's a hard path, defending something you love; particularly when it can't speak for itself, and the way in which you love it cannot be quantified by numbers or dates. It's easy to feel that the battle is futile, to assume the weight of a foregone conclusion and give in - but we have not. 

We have stood up for our countryside. 

We have stood up for our children. 

We will fight for our fields, our flowers, our birds, our greenbelt.

I hope to God that we win.

Image may contain: text and outdoor
This photo belongs to the Save Bengeo's Countryside Facebook Page

To SUPPORT the campaign, please: 

VISIT the website to find out more about the threats and how you can help:

GO TO the stall in Hertford on February the 18th (details on the Facebook page)

GET INVOLVED, however you can. 


Friday, 10 February 2017

In All Honesty: To Myself and To You

To anyone and no one; and mostly to myself.

I have not posted here in a very long time. To have to say that is not what I wanted when I started this blog. But it is a fact, and I will not pretend that it isn't.

The truth is, that sometimes it can be extraordinarily hard to work out how you really want to spend your time - and even harder to act on it. When I first made this blog, it was because I thought that in the future I might like to become a wildlife or nature journalist, and that to have a blog would be a good idea. I put a lot of pressure on myself to write like a journalist, because I thought that's what I wanted...but all it did was make me feel that I couldn't write what I wanted to write. I thought that I needed to do Serious, Meticulously Researched Articles about important global issues; about conservation; about things that I am passionate about...but that honestly I'm neither informed enough to write about nor blessed with time to research, as I would if it were my job. As a result, I felt defeated before I'd even begun, and so I didn't push myself to progress with writing anything at all, and the blog very quickly fell silent.

I'm not a journalist, and right now, when my life is filled with studying, writing like one doesn't really make me happy. All I am is a person, who loves the country and the wild spaces that made her.

Like a true heroine of a Victorian novel, I was doing some thinking today, on a walk in the pouring, freezing February rain (but, unlike these unfortunate women, I had a waterproof to prevent the classic tragic 'I've caught a cold and died' ending that would make all this thinking redundant) and I realised that how I feel when I'm outside is how writing used to make me feel. It should make me feel empowered, free, happy...not pressured or intimidated.

I consider myself to be a selfless person. A hard worker. I'm conscientious and driven and dedicated to my studies - to an extent that frankly isn't always necessary. These things often result in me perhaps focusing too much away from myself, not giving myself the time and the attention and the love that I deserve. Writing is a part of this; it did - does - make me happy, and it's something I don't want to lose.

Writing is a part of me that feels like it's been missing for a long time, that got lost somewhere in the exams and the revision and the Learning to Achieve. If I'm going to stand any chance of getting back into it again, into loving it like I used to, I need to write on my own terms, in my own way - and I need to be brave enough to do that, even if it means that no one wants to read what I write.

So, as of 2017, there are going to be some new rules:

1 - I will write what I want, when I feel like it, and I will not put pressure on myself to write anything in particular or a certain number of times per week or month or year.
Disclaimer: This probably means some random pieces of fiction may appear in the form of short stories or snapshots.

2 - I will do more to further other creative interests. This one is already in play! I've started a photography Instagram with the username clutteredmind_wildheart (Go to it here!). Posting on it and getting such positive responses is making me very happy and really inspiring me to continue - if you've managed to read this much of this post, reward yourself by checking it out! It's all photos of the outdoors, mostly in the Lake District (and quite a few of my dog) :)

3 - I will write in my own voice. Blogs are supposed to be personal, and I know that I can write about the outdoors and the natural world, all the things I'm passionate about, without feeling pressured to sound like an article or a journalist. I can write like me. Even if no one else wants to read it, I will enjoy writing it.

4 - I will not be afraid to be creative - if I want to write a poem, I'll write a poem. No one has to enjoy it but me.

5 - I will make the time to write. I will make time to get out into the outdoors, where I feel most at home. I will enjoy my time. I will stop standing in my own way.

I am the heroine of this story, and I will write with my heart.

I hope you decide to stick with me and see what comes out! Thanks for getting through this one; it's mostly been a cathartic exercise for me, but I hope good things are inspired by my starting over.
Here's a picture of Pippin looking very happy on his first ever visit to the Peak District, to reward you for getting through all this Annabel Stuff :)