[This year I have decided to study two big Horse Chestnut trees near our house. This is Part 5 of my sketchbook-learnings.]
In my last update I was celebrating the new green leaves that had burst forth all over the two chestnuts. That was at the end of April. Since then the trees have been covered in flowers. Horse Chestnut flowers are extraordinary. They are towering pyramids of frilly blossoms. Stacks of indulgent pink and white flowers like big candles balanced on top of the flat palms of the leaves. Individual flowers have 45 fringed petals, white with a pink flush at the base. I think the blossom of the Horse Chestnut has been the biggest surprise to me so far in my year of observations.
The canopy of the trees is now so dense and luscious that it is almost dark when we stand underneath on our visits. One of the trees bends over the road into Drygrange and provides a momentary black-out when you drive underneath. The tops of the trees have light-green new growth, hungry for light.
In my April update I was wondering about whether lockdown – being forced to stay local, daily walks – might have brought the trees we share our streets and parks with more to our attention. I wondered if perhaps we would begin to value their contribution to our welfare more. Since then the world has had its attention brought sharply to the Black Lives Matter movement by the uprising after the police murder of George Floyd in the USA. It has become clear that all people, and especially white people, have to re-examine their privilege, look deep into themselves to work on unlearning bias, and ask what they can do to help to dismantle the systems of oppression that mean that some lives matter more than others. The combination of the Covid lockdown and the Black Lives Matter movement has had me thinking more about these trees and what they represent. The simple fact is that because I am white and well-off I have access to clean air and to green spaces. I know from my own experience how critical green space is to health and happiness. Climate change does not affect all equally. The most marginalised and vulnerable communities are the ones which are most affected by climate change. They will also be the worst impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. These injustices are interconnected. W.H. Auden said that “The trees encountered on a country stroll reveal a lot about a country’s soul”. Until all people in the UK have the same access to clean air and green spaces – and can encounter the trees that Auden talks about – then our country’s soul is not healthy. The solutions to the climate crisis have to be looked at through the lens of environmental justice.
I’m just beginning to research and think more about environmental justice. Up until now I have mostly thought of my contribution to the effort to tackle climate change being that of individual action – being a responsible consumer, less single use plastic etc – but the events of recent weeks have made me realise that isn’t enough. I need to add my voice to challenge the big players, such as the big fossil fuel companies, and speak up for all the creatures of this planet, human and otherwise. At this point I’m not sure how to begin but I am reading and noticing and listening. The response to this pandemic and to the Black Lives Matter movement feels like an opportunity for a just and green recovery.
And while all of this rages on, my chestnuts go about their gentle year. Already we have tipped past the middle point of the year and begun the descent into shorter days and longer nights. The horse chestnut blossom has faded. The world keeps spinning on her lovely axis.
Little did I think when I began my study of the two chestnuts in January that it would be accompanied by such a turbulent and strange human drama. Let us see what July brings!
Take good care of yourselves, my friends!
PS here’s a list of the resources I have begun my learning about environmental justice and intersectional environmentalism with:
350.org is an organisation that campaigns against the use of fossil fuels and keeps leaders accountable to their emissions commitments
An article by Leah Thomas for Vogue titled Why Every Environmentalist Should Be Anti-racist
A report commissioned by Natural England entitled “The Messy Challenge of Environmental Justice in the UK”