At playtime in Primary School, one of my favourite things to do was collect sticks from the little strip of mud under two cherry trees at the end of the playground and build little houses for the bugs and worms I found.
In high school a lot of my breaks were again spent at the edges of the grounds, hiding in long grass or even up trees with my small group of friends. We crept through broken fences to find wilderness even in the derelict corners of the school grounds. I discovered quickly that the punishment for not bringing my PE kit (litter-picking the grounds) was far more engaging than the PE lessons themselves.
School residentials to Kilnsey and Robin’s Hood Bay, and regular family holidays to the same Northumberland and Swaledale spots each year are the locations of my most happy memories.
I remember one two week holiday where I decided to not wear shoes and delighted in poking the soles of my feet each day to feel the callouses build. I remember being the first kid to get to the top of a climbing route on Malham Cove and looking down at my classmates with my heart pounding so hard it might explode.
After leaving school at 16 and struggling through art college, the most frustrating days I’d take a half hour round trip to spend a few minutes on the weedy scrap of forgotten land in-between the canal and the river to decompress my thoughts.
by 18 I was more adventurous, taking the train out to Ilkley, Saltaire or Horton-in-Ribblesdale to stomp over windy hills when rage or disorientation or boredom propelled me from the city.
Maybe 7 year-old-ellie just naturally gravitated towards the wilder edges of her habitat. If so I’m very glad that she was able to find them. I live just down the road from my old primary school. It looks very much the same except that there is a fence preventing children from entering the ground under the cherry trees.
I’m glad because if I hadn’t scrabbled in dirt in primary school, I might not have explored the edges of high school, or discovered the overgrown edges of the city. I might not have had the inkling that spending time exploring the edges of my home county could be so sane-making and exciting, and if I hadn’t thought that I might not have developed such a strong connection to it. And if I hadn’t connected with nature, I would never have spent the winter in a treehouse, or a summer teaching children about peat moorlands, or achieved a lot of the things I am most proud of.
I am motivated by a fear for the future of our planet as we know it, and my home as I know it.
But this motivation comes from a clearly traceable, learnt love of the messily beautiful ecosystem I call home.
I know that you can’t teach anyone how to love, but I also know that you can’t love something you don’t know, and that knowledge can be taught.
Humans’ interdependent connection to wilderness needs to be shown to every individual who hasn’t noticed it. Interventions at all stages of life need to be made to ensure that people alive now care enough to make radical, scary changes so that people born tomorrow will be connected enough to survive on a changing planet.
There are enough examples of otherwise successful adults committing ecological destruction to convince me that teaching adults environmental awareness is just as important as teaching small children.
“No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.” David Attenborough