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How optimism lifted.

 In the Sticks by Shirley Clerkin.

There was optimism and all the babies slept peacefully in their beds among the quiet, velveteen hills.  The piano played cheerful melodies, tinkling beads on a necklace out the open windows to the birds that flitted contentedly on the air. Plans were gone over, knitting clacked, beds were dug, bees hummed.

Geology moves glacially, mostly. The drip drop of water on stone erodes, slowly. Even grykes start without trumpets. Summoning latent defects, you might say.  Roots loosen too, making way for opportunists into the ecosystem balance. Cleavage.

Tranquilised by parental oblivion the babies still sleep soundly. Some sort of birdsong lifts from the land. Cadences stack but hollowness creeps into the resolutions. Missing notes pass unremarked as the ability to hear the complexity and richness of sound is lost. Bookended music is enough. The piano goes out of tune.

The water whiles the time away with the moon. Under the enchanted cloak of darkness, a minor key sounds, an orthostat rolls closed the crescent moon and reason goes backstage. The babies grow into adults and disquieted by the silence, one day they stir and wake.  A plaintive requiem pipes from the hilltops. Where are the missing notes? The quavers, the crotchets, the long held minims?

They feel like erratics in their own place. No one can measure or know their alienation. Sorry for your loss, the handshake at every wake in the country has no purpose now.

The Living Planet Index, which measures the trends in thousands of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians shows a 52% decrease between 1970 and 2010, my lifetime. The WWF, alive and kicking for many years, measuring, recording, advocating, campaigning, produced the report, but there is little comfort for them in the new data. No good looking down at the coffin of loss, looking to your neighbour and saying, “I told you so”.  ‘The Living Planet Report – Species and Spaces, People and Places’, peddles the message that we can change, we can grasp the opportunity that we have so far failed to grasp and close this destructive chapter of our history. But can we?

Maybe I am writing in February. Maybe my fingers type loss and pessimism but late in the month and into March, when little signals of life push forth to keep the snowdrops company, optimism will restore me – about human nature. During another dark winter night, in  November at the Guth Gafa (Captive Voice) Film Festival in Headfort, Kells, I was left bereft and grieving after watching the film ‘Virunga’.

This gripping documentary, now available on Netflix, follows the Virunga National Park rangers led by chief warden Emmanuel de Merode, a passionate French journalist, Melanie Gouby and gorilla-carer Andre Bauma, as they try to secure the Park, which is home to some of the last mountain gorillas on the planet. Bauma has an unswerving and beautiful belief that his purpose in life is to protect the gorillas. His affinity with them is the humanity grounding the film, but his is an attachment not shared by all. In the midst of armed conflict, the UK Oil Company SoCo International tries to muscle up oil exploration in this World Heritage Site, a place that is of Outstanding Universal Value. Virunga World Heritage Site meets three of the requisite criteria – to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance; to be an outstanding example representing major stages of earth’s history; and to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation. Virunga National Park is a refuge for 22 primate species, including one third of the world population of mountain gorillas. It is universally important.

In the film the oil interests cleaved every potential niche to access the oil resources of the park, encouraging dissent among the local supporters for the National Park while appearing to offer bribes to park rangers.  Like old cartoons, dollars per barrel gleamed in the eyes of Homo sapiens, extinction saddened the eyes of Gorilla beringei. Following the WWF campaign and the film, SoCo has committed to withdraw from Virunga but, worryingly and typically, oil concessions still exist for the park.

The Belgian Director de Merode, was shot and injured just before the release of the film last April, by unknown men. Courageously the rangers battle on, even though real risks to their lives exist – over one hundred rangers have lost their lives since 1996. They believe that a sustainable development model can secure the landscape for their and nature’s future. I believe it too.  But, wheelers and dealers always have their eye on the prize.

Writer Christopher Potter asks the only question:  “The story of the survival of human beings is particularly difficult to tell as a story of adaptation in nature.  How did the weakest ape come out so far on top?”.

‘How?’ is my preoccupation as February drops,
so cold. •