John lives with his partner Judith and their two dogs, Chloe and Mollie, at Upper Sturt in South Australia. He is 74 years of age, has 2 children and 5 grandchildren. Central to John’s life is the daily challenge of harmonizing a love and care of the natural world with the pragmatics of living a thoughtful, productive and rewarding life. John is an Emeritus Professor at Flinders University. He specialises in rural education.
Photo Credit: John Halsey
It came to pass!
Surely some of the more under-rated scriptural words that have relevance for all, often missed in a quick reading.
And so it is with COVID-19- it came to pass and it too will pass.
Then something else will come into our midst to disturb, disrupt and challenge how we live, what we value and what we hope for. Is there anything that endures and nurtures and reassures during these times?
For me, a daily source of reassurance and joy about life- apart from our Labrador dogs Chloe and Mollie, my partner, family and friends- is being in and close to Nature both in a real, lived-time way and through imagining and memory.
A few words of explanation.
We live in Australia, a country of 25 million people and a land mass of 7.6 million km2. The climate varies from tropical in the north to temperate in the south; from monsoons and torrential rain to blizzards and snow; from the lush green foliage of rainforests to the grey-blue hues of saltbush in the stunning Red Centre.
Our home is nestled among 27 acres of near pristine Stringy Bark, Cup Gum and Casuarina remnant forest in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. There is also a profusion of other plants and understory- we have documented over 350- including Xanthorrhoea, Isopogon, Leptospermum, ferns of various kinds and Spyridium. And yes, there are also a few weeds!
The trees, the plants, the soil with its stones, ants, insects, bark and bacteria combine to create a wonderful habitat for an amazing variety of small and larger birds including wrens, thornbills, parrots of various kinds and plumage and, on occasion, Wedged-tailed Eagles and other raptors.
Occasionally an echidna, an egg laying mammal and a true wonder of Nature, wanders through in search of food, aerating the soil as it goes, apparently oblivious to all. Noise from koalas and calls and carolling by kookaburras and magpies bring added colour and conversation.
On summer evenings, bats fly about and skim the dam and sometimes they are joined by magnificent Yellow-tailed Black -Cockatoos and Grey Kangaroos who come to drink. Frogs sing. Crickets thunder.
There are two other locations which exemplify the power of Nature to nurture and reassure, this time through imagining and memory.
The first is our Mallee property at Sandalwood nearly two hundred kilometres from our home. Mallee is the dominant tree type but there are many others. It is particularly hardy and known for its numerous stems that grow from a large bulbous woody structure called a lignotuber.
We visit and stay whenever we can but we do not live there. However, Sandalwood is always in our minds and is a constant source of inspiration and meaning.
In January 2014 a fire started by lightning completely burnt all but about 600 of the 4,000 acres we have. Habitat for kangaroos, emus, echidna, Mallee fowls that build huge earth mounds as nests and regulate the temperate with a thermometer in their beak by varying the covering on the eggs, reptiles and birds of many kinds, destroyed in a few days.
The earth was rendered utterly bare. Black sticks where once there were trees in profusion, and no leaf litter whatsoever on the fireground. Threatened and vulnerable species like the 4-5gram Mallee Emu-Wren, which needs thick spinifex clumps of understory to survive, pushed further towards extinction.
Enter the conservation group Greening Australia who asked if we would agree to massive plantings of locally sourced species on our property to create much needed corridors and cover for birds and wildlife. Answer- yes! And 6 years later plus the regrowth work of nature, we again have extensive tree and vegetation cover and the build-up of animal life continues. Hope-full? Yes! Life affirming? Absolutely!
The other imagining and memory place of inspiration and energy from Nature is Thompson Beach on the Samphire Coast in the Gulf of St. Vincent 70 kilometres from Adelaide, our capital city. Each year thousands of Bar-tailed Godwits fly in from Alaska and other northern parts to eat and fatten for their return journey to breed in the Arctic. The truly miraculous fact is these birds fly non-stop for 9 to10 days at a constant speed of around 50 kilometres an hour to reach their northern home. In doing so, they lose half their body weight. That’s inspiration on steroids- and amazingly economical flying!
Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic has ‘in the twinkling of an eye’, dramatically changed our routines, our livelihoods, made us confront a plethora of things we take for granted and expect will just ‘naturally’ happen, and has shaken- broken?- many of the foundations which are so central to the way societies function.
The sub-microscopic virus is forcing governments (and businesses and multi-nationals) to radically re-think the design and operation of their economies. Especially the balance between self-sufficiency of essential supplies and services and reliance on others for them. Nothing has thrown this into sharper relief than the way health experts and authorities have displaced ‘the economy’ from top billing in constant news feeds.
And the pandemic is also creating opportunities for rampant exploitation and selfish, self-centred behaviour which is all about advancing me and mine.
However, overwhelmingly the pandemic is bringing out the very best in people through caring, sharing, and being willing to accept restrictions on mobility and relationships.
And through it all, Nature endures and renews and rewards- changing and unchanging; surprising and utterly dependable.
Nature- a peerless gift.