Elizabeth and Carol
“It’s the hottest day ever!” Managing Climate Grief as a Forest School Leader
“It’s the hottest day ever!”
“This is the hottest place!”
“Stay away” we are told, “from the outdoors, from nature”: from the Forest School leader’s workplace, inspiration, and place they call home.
How does anyone with a love of nature manage their emotions around climate change? How do Forest School leaders reconcile this long march to planet exhaustion with the job of connecting people to nature? How do they love nature and remain sane at the end of the day?
As I write, the temperature, much heralded, is in the 30s. The river wall path I can see from my home is, unusually at this time of year and this time of day, deserted. The local people have heeded advice and are staying in. Whilst the politicians and journalists wonder about the stability of train lines and water supplies, I find myself worrying about the fledglings, the young trees without deep roots, the dried-up pools that small mammals might be relying on, and the impact on sky plankton for swallows and swifts.
The research is clear that these heat events will become more regular. Humans may adapt in the short term – staying in by the air conditioning. But what of our commitment, as Forest School leaders, to nurture nature connection in our young? What can we do to stay true to our integrity and not become overwhelmed by the grief of a burning planet?
Wendell Berry’s answer was to ‘go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds’; to come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief’ and this is still good advice. We may not be able to change the future, but we can still find the peace of nature in the present and witness the extraordinary and complex beauty of our planet on a daily basis.
Where is that beauty for me today, sitting beneath the searing sun? The curlews and oystercatchers are still calling from the mudbanks as the tide begins to creep in. Far, far above me are soaring herring gulls; rather lower: the chattering twitch of the swallows and a flock of swooping wagtails. My daughter, living in central London, calls me with her own nature spots: the foxes prowling the streets at dusk and high, high swifts in the square of sky over her pocket garden. These are still real; they continue to hold exquisite beauty and fire our hearts with joy: here, in the now.
As a trainer, I am increasingly changing and adapting our courses to accommodate extreme weather and, whilst I salute those able to campaign for change with rigour and dedication, a daily present of dystopian future isn’t a present I can inhabit. What I can do is continue to witness the beauty of now. I can continue to share, teach, and inspire a love of nature in the now. This concentration on being present in this moment, this now, helps me – a witness to this changing climate – to continue to love and nurture the nature that is left around me.