5 May 2020
At present, in our isolation, we are confronted, surrounded, cajoled and assailed by words (spoken and written) in the form of messages, demands, news items, regulatory requirements, stories, TV/radio entertainment and many more.
I have always likened words to animals, both wild and domestic. They can be comforting, exhilarating, captivating, calming and dangerous. We consume them voraciously. However, that can sometimes have disastrous consequences. The human consumption of a wild animal, rather than the word that depicts it, appears to have led to the establishment of a totally new word (COVID-19) in the lexicon of every major language on the planet.
Words can also be confusing and misleading. Consider, for example, the statement by Groucho Marx: Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana. The statement loses a lot in written form. When spoken, with appropriate emphasis, it can be delightfully confusing.
Like our dealings with any wild animal, it is important to treat many words with caution. We are presently being bombarded with an avalanche of information, the veracity of which is often difficult to determine.
At times, words are a thing of beauty. Wordsworth’s stanza in his poem The Daffodils (I wandered lonely as a cloud….) has relevance to our present circumstances:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
And they can be quite powerful. Consider Tennyson’s poem The Eagle:
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls,
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
In our present COVID captivity, please spend some time thinking about, observing, reading about, or even writing about, the natural world. It can have a calming influence. One of our Society’s founders and my friend, Judith Wright, wrote eloquently about our native animals and plants. In a tribute to her, I recall quoting the first and last stanzas of her poem entitled Dotterel and stating that the words, in many ways, described Judith herself.
Wild and impermanent
As the sea-foam blown,
The dotterel keeps its distance
And runs alone.
It runs, but not in fear,
And its thin high call
Is like a far bugle
That troubles the soul.
Judith’s campaigns, in the name of the Society, to protect the Great Barrier Reef and our dwindling rainforests made people think, and certainly troubled a number of politicians.
My great fear is that, when the coronavirus restrictions are finally lifted (and that time is still well into the future), many existing environmental constraints will be removed by governments in the name of bolstering a severely wounded economy. I am worried that our national parks and other protected areas may be thrown open and treated as fair game for many forms of development. The present move in Queensland to allow tourist resorts to be built in national parks is bad enough. I am concerned about what else may eventuate to diminish our small area of national parks that are the last refuges for our dwindling wildlife.
I leave you with one last little poem, and hope you are travelling well in this strange unparalleled and uncharted period of our lives.
There comes a time
To share with other searching minds
The innocence of living things,
And taste the sweetly sculptured earth.
To caste off chained emotions
And gently fold the fleeting wings of time.
President, Wildlife Queensland