At One with the World

Scapa Beach
Awareness of the world around us is more important than we might think.

We are slowly moving out of Summer and into Autumn. This time of year is often one of warmer, more settled weather up here in the north, and this year it is very welcome. In general, it has been a bad summer. Temperatures have been low and there has been a lot of rain.

The changing of the season is subtle. When you live in a town you hardly notice it until it is done – you are wearing your thicker coat every day, you expect it to rain and the heating is on to its winter settings. The flowering plants have ceased to bloom, and the garden looks decidedly autumnal. Today we are prompted more by human constructs: the return to school; bonfire night; putting the clocks back. Events such as these make us acutely aware of the passing of the year. There will soon be Christmas decorations in the shops, the annual countdown of shopping days will start, and people will begin to ask about your festive plans.

Out in the countryside we are a bit more aware of the elements: the evenings are getting darker; rainstorms become more visible; the parking spot to the back of the house is more exposed. We still live in a world largely of our making, however. How were the seasons heralded in prehistory? I think it was a more rounded sensory experience.  Not only were there changes in light and temperature; there would be bird song, the wildlife encountered while undertaking daily tasks would change. The noises that made up the backdrop to daily life would shift. Journeys might take longer as ground conditions changed: boggy land became hard to cross once more, streams were faster flowing and it would be necessary to seek new crossing points; shelter from autumnal gales was required for the camp site. Diet adjusted to make use of the available resources.

Without the cushioning effect of modern technology, the mind would turn to a different taskscape as we move from one season to the next. Nowadays we change our lives so little throughout the year. Our prehistoric forebears would have an intuitive grasp of the work that became necessary as the year moved on. Since childhood, their lives were finely attuned to the rhythms of life that heralded the approach of each new season. Warm clothing had to be prepared and mended. Some foods required processing and storage. There might be fuel to collect against a run of heavy snowfall or other conditions that restricted access to the outdoors. Raw materials for tools could be amassed to be worked across long evenings. Beds and living spaces needed final preparations against coming hardship. As the year changed, so did the world, and so did we.

I find it quite hard to imagine a lifestyle like this. Yet, in some ways, I am shocked at how quickly we have lost the grasp of living at one with the world around us. Go back a couple of centuries, and those who lived outside of the town would still have retained much of the ancient connection to surroundings that enabled human life down the centuries. Go back a few centuries further and it operated even within larger settlements.

I’m wondering whether it is this disconnection that makes it so hard for us to make the adjustments necessary for the great challenges that we face now. They are, perhaps, the greatest challenges ever faced by the collective human community since we had to make the decision as to whether, or not, to move just that little bit further away from our home territories – a decision that would lead, ultimately, to human colonisation around the globe. Somehow, we seem unable to grasp the way in which the world will move on, whether or not, we chose to go with it. I feel a bit as if I am observing a small child having a tantrum because some well-loved routine has been altered. We seem to have developed a sense of entitlement: we like our fossil fuels; we like our exotic foods; we like our connectivity. They work well now; surely we are owed the fruits of our technological labour, fruits that assure us such comfortable lives. Today we seem to feel that we live on the world, not in it. Our ancestors would have begged to differ. I’m straying out of my comfort zone, but I have a feeling that we are not owed anything. I have a feeling that we will have to cast aside many of the things that we have come to take for granted. I’m not worried about the future of the world, but I am concerned that her messages to us are falling on deaf ears. I’m hoping we can open our senses once more and step back in tune with the world around us.