“What would the world be, once bereft” (Hopkins)

It is a very unsettling time to be human. To be trees, to be weeds, to be vast areas of the western North American continent currently on fire. To be a reader of documents detailing atrocity. We are in the middle of a heat wave here on the Pacific west coast. Yesterday I closed the door of my greenhouse at 8:30 (leaving the roof vent open) and it was 44. Outside, 32 in the shade. We swim in the mornings and that’s a blessing but the idea of a late dip is unthinkable because the place where we swim, where we’ve gone for more than 40 years, is packed with people. The man who rakes the sand and takes away the garbage said this morning that he was taking away 200 cans from yesterday. Those are the ones left, mostly in the bins but some on the beach. Many people take their cans and other stuff away with them. I was awake for a lot of the night, hearing boats on the lakes, traffic on the highway at 2:30 a.m., and even gunshot around 5.

On my desktop, a copy of Canada’s Residential Schools: Missing Children and Unmarked Burials, Volume 4 of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It’s overwhelming in both its detail and its clarity. The statistical information is shattering. One example: the percentage of enrolment from 1891-1909 who died at two institutions, Old Sun’s Boarding School and Peigan Anglican School: 47.4 and 49.2 respectively. I was thinking about that in the night, listening to the noise of summer, and wondering how our country can ever reconcile goodness with this terrible legacy.

The other morning when we drove out, I saw a sign on the bottom of our driveway, put there by the Ministry of Transportation and Highways, to alert people to herbicide spraying along the gravel shoulders. The target? Orange hawkweed. It’s a pretty wildflower, introduced to North America somehow, called fox-and-cubs in Europe where it’s a native plant. We’ve lived here for 40 years and it’s always been part of the roadside flora. I notice these plants and I notice their pollinators — bees, butterflies, etc. I contacted the Ministry of Transportation to register my objection and had the usual round of back and forth, some of it on Twitter, and it’s like talking to logs. Glyphosate, I said? Really? It’s implicated in so many cancers, significantly non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and blood-related cancers. That’s for humans. What about songbirds, what about butterflies, what about the snakes who lie in the sunny gravel on summer mornings? Oh we have to control it, was the response. A species that can take people to space and back, can decode the human genome, develop safe vaccines within a year for a deadly virus, compose symphonies, is still committed to toxic herbicides on our public highways. I think of Inversnaid, written in 1881 by Gerard Manley Hopkins after a visit to the poem’s namesake village on the shores of Loch Lomond.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

I’m looking out now to sun on a cascara and arbutus and blue sky without a cloud in it. A chicken is roasting, dusted with herbes de Provence, and some new potatoes in a separate pan, for salad. Yesterday I made the mistake of waiting until late afternoon to begin preparations for dinner: chiles rellenos, for which the peppers had to be broiled and skinned, filled with chorizo and cheese, battered and baked with sauce from the freezer. By the time they were ready, I was too hot to be hungry. Tonight dinner will come from the fridge.

John was awake in the night too and at one point I said to him, “I’m scared.” Not of the dark, not because of the relative isolation of our house where gunshot is unexpected to say the least, but of the future. Mine, his, the planet’s. We’ve talked about climate change for decades now and as New Mexico, Idaho, Arizona, and California burn, as the rivers and lakes dry up, as we face the consequences of our species’ ability to grow at an unsustainable rate, to consume, to refuse to adjust our expectations, I don’t look forward to what the future brings or takes away. What would the world be? I wonder if it’s too late to imagine.

4 thoughts on ““What would the world be, once bereft” (Hopkins)”

  1. I was reminded of an essay in Ted Kooser’s book “Local Wonders” where he too responds to the spraying of ditches near his home in Nebraska. Settler culture has a lot to answer for, not least the introduction of invasive species no matter how inadvertent it may have been. The more distressing part is the thoughtless way many people continue to be oblivious to the damage and mess they create. I’m sad to think of your swimming spot being spoiled, though you are fortunate someone is being paid to try to keep it clean. As ever I salute you for not sitting by wringing your hands as I tend to do, but taking what action you can and using your gift of words to speak up for the wild and wet. Stay cool and safe as best you can.

  2. Thank you, esp. for referencing Ted Kooser, a poet I really love but I haven’t read his essays! Something to look forward to. We are lucky in that when we swim in the mornings (around 8:30), we are usually the only ones there, apart from the guy who comes to clean the area. As we’re leaving, people begin to arrive for the day. It used to be that there were always others in the late afternoon but not too many. Now the regional district (who owns and maintains the little park) is thinking about expanding the parking lot (because at peak times, people are parking on the narrow highway) and creating another beach access just a little further along the lake. I know that there’s fairly limited public access to water on this Coast but somehow the idea of taking this little jewel of a park and turning it into something bigger doesn’t seem like a good solution.

  3. I had a discussion the other day with a colleague who said – “It almost seems selfish to bring children into the world these days. What terrible future awaits them?” Food for thought.

    Weather cool and rainy here in Paris.

    1. It didn’t seem like a selfish act when I had my children but I do worry about our collective lack of action on the issues that affect our world.
      I’m glad it’s cooler where you are! It will be 40 here today.

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