A tendril of jasmine has made its way through the tiny gap between the windowpanes and its small white blooms have brought their perfume into the porch where our guinea pigs live. Tiny, star-shaped, the flowers glow at night like nature’s own Chanukkah candles.
I write from love of this world of plants and animals. ‘You shall love your God with all your heart,’ teaches the Torah in Judaism’s best-known meditation. Part of that love is to love what God has created. I’m far from being a creationist; I embrace the science of evolution. But I’m with the mystics when they feel the divine presence both in people and nature, something holy that should not be hurt or harmed.
Several times during lockdown an email arrived in my inbox: ‘Please put your guinea pigs out on the lawn and leave your side gate open. My children have asked to see them; they need this for their mental health.’
For my own mental – and physical and spiritual – health, I had to get out early in the morning or late at night and join the trees in prayer. I’d go where they surrounded me with their meditations, their patient sense of time. Among them, I sensed the steady decontamination of my thoughts, the restoration of the mind’s clarity, the renewal of that bond with the sacred beauty which exists within this world. In such moments we touch a deeper consciousness with the power to guide us even through our complex dealings in this confusing world.
I’m reading Guy Shrubsole’s wonderful book The Lost Rainforests of Britain (If you need a seasonal present, I give it five stars). Someone directs him to the notebooks left by Oliver Rackman, ecologist and ‘wise man’ of the forests:
Written in pencil and faded ink, their well-thumbed pages read like prayer books to the woods in which [he] worshipped.
I hadn’t actually known that Britain had rainforests, but it turns out I’ve walked in them, lush, full of oaks, birches, rowans, ferns, lichens and other epiphytes. (Nearby was a conifer plantation, the ground beneath the serried trees almost lifeless, dark.)
I’m writing about these matters because I love those woods, and because I don’t want my or anyone else’s children or grandchildren to have ‘loved and lost.’
We’re several days into COP 15, the UN’s biodiversity summit. I hesitate to quote Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s opening words: ‘We are treating nature like a toilet. This conference is our chance to stop this orgy of destruction. To move from discord to harmony.’
At the close of his life Moses tells the people: Don’t say this teaching is far away. It’s not in heaven or over the seas: it’s ‘in your mouth and heart, for you to do it.’
The same applies to caring for nature, and each other. There’s so much near to home we can do. ‘I work with everyone, farmers, landowners, crofters,’ a forester told me as I tried to keep the midges out of my eyes and look out across the hillsides they were restoring. ‘This’ll be two hundred thousand trees, with ponds and pathways,’ Nick told us, as our community team took up their spades and started planting less than ten miles from home. (See JTree’s website for planting opportunities this winter).
People probably think I’m crazy because I sometimes say hello to the jays and blackbirds when I walk to the synagogue. But they’re part of my prayer life.
It’s not a question of either nature or people. To my mind, it’s always ‘both and.’ If you love the world, you care about everything.