In the woods nearby, the bluebells are starting to come out.
In another couple of weeks, I shall be able to walk into the depths of the wood, see a sight like the one above (that picture was taken last year) and breathe in the gentle fragrance of what must surely be at least a million flowers. It is a treat I look forward to every April.
I read the other day that at least eighty percent of people in the British Isles do not live within walking distance of a wood. That felt to me like a sad and very disturbing statistic. Disturbing not just because it reminds us that the destruction of native woodland – which in these islands began with the Romans and continues to this day – is a factor in climate change, but because we really need woods. We need them in all sorts of ways, not only for the carbon they sequester.
To stand alone in the middle of a wood is to be outnumbered. To be one solitary human organism, less than ankle-high to any one of several thousand other living organisms around you is to be, just for a little while, back in the right importance ratio of human to planet. It cannot but make you feel humble. And we all need to feel humble and outnumbered, often.
It was not by accident that Dante chose to begin his journey of mid-life self-discovery at the time and place that he did:
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi retrovai per una selva oscura,
che la diritta via era smarrita.
("In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wood,
for the straight way was lost").
Mid-life is like that – or can be, if we allow ourselves to let go of the heroic phase, the ‘outward arc’ of our existence and start along the ‘inward arc’, the deeper journey of exploration that, as Jung, explained, is the true task of our later lives.
I like to imagine, too, that as a species we are coming close to that same point in the evolutionary cycle. Lost in the woods, with no ‘diritta via’ in sight, we are challenged to look within, to examine ourselves, our lifestyles, our priorities and to face the murky shadows of our exploitative, hubristic history. We are challenged to learn, to grow in consciousness, to find a new way out of the wood and into the clear light of a simple, peaceful, co-operative and sustainable way of living in harmony with the rest of creation.
If we don’t succeed in this, then eventually some April day will come that my woods are bare of bluebells and no human eye will ever see a glorious sight like this one, ever again.