It’s been a delight living in Turvey for the past thirty years and a privilege to contribute almost one hundred articles on its natural history since the first in February 1994 to Turvey News. And what changes there have been since then, both in the local landscape and in the wider landscape of our own human history. My reason for being here is essentially ‘religious’. I’m a monk in a monastery committed to the three Benedictine vows of stability, obedience and conversio morum – often translated as change of life.
The vow of stability commits me to being with the one community for life; the vow of obedience is ultimately to God but through human agency, most obviously my superiors in the monastic life but also to one another – a sort of mutual love; and the vow of conversio morum is about adapting to change. One might say indeed that all three vows are essentially about this: with learning to live with life as it continually evolves, to continue to love whatever happens – and one can read that in more than one sense.
The Natural World
This is no less true of experiencing the natural world as the supernatural world around us, indeed they are, arguably, one and the same. As well as being a pleasant diversion from the daily slog of monastic life the many rambles (both walked and written) which I’ve enjoyed over the past thirty years have also been about coping with both exterior and interior change, with experiencing both gain and loss, and learning the hard lesson that our own relationship with the world is problematic – a driver of loss as well as gain.
The articles, which are available in the Brother John Collection have been largely upbeat but the underlying reality has been one of a gradual, and sometimes not so gradual, impoverishment of the natural world. One could use harsher terms but much of the damage was well underway before I came and is systemic: the fault of a system rather than any one individual.
We are locked into a process of chemical farming and a sustained attrition on air and water quality by our increasingly mechanised lifestyle, not least our love of the combustion engine. Many other factors also come into play including an ever-increasing population and what’s happening worldwide – deforestation for example. The natural world has been both a source of great delight: there is always more to know, but also a source of despair: is nothing sacred, as yet another species of flower or bird or insect disappears. This process of more loss than gain is becoming particularly apparent now as the effects of global warming kick in. As long ago as 2002 Paul Brown, writing in the Guardian, was warning
The average temperature in Britain is increasing so fast that in climate terms, gardens are moving south at the rate of 12 metres a day, or 100 miles for each one degree centigrade increase in temperature. This rise is expected to be two to five degrees in the summer and two to three degrees in the winter in the next fifty years. Snow will become a distant memory over most of England and frost a rarity.
40 Miles South
By my reckoning this puts us some forty miles further south already than in 2002 and although we still have some frost and occasional snow the changes that are taking place in the natural world seem to bear this out. Even the Sun newspaper was ironically able to declare in the summer of 2018 that ‘the World is on Fire’! And water levels continue to be well below par.
So, read the articles in the archive as a snapshot of life in a beautiful English village in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, with the countryside still looking beautiful too but be aware that there’s a much deeper malaise at work, both within and without; a shifting baseline syndrome, both physical and spiritual, which hasn’t stopped yet.