Considering we're now living in Biblical Old Testament times—pandemic, floods, locusts, fires—I've retreated to doing the only thing that seems to make any sense lately: binge watching the Netflix documentary series "Our Planet"
I'm aware the series was released a year ago, but honestly no better moment than now for a revisit. It tells the story of the one place we all call home. We're taken to habitats across the world, featuring an astonishing cast, the Siberian tiger, the tiny grey mouse Lemur, pink pelicans, the lonesome albatross, spinner dolphins, magnificent blue whales. Each frame a spectacle, not just of plentitude and beauty though, but of imminent and potential loss. David Attenborough, our patient guide and narrator, often sounds more than just a little disappointed in his own species. For the series, unlike nature programmes of the past, addresses climate change, and our deeply incriminating role in the demise, and imbalancing, of ecologies within the natural world.
I love it not just for finally calling us out on this, but also for offering us instances of hope—of people finding ways to inhabit the world more sustainably.
But I was struck also by something else.
As part of my next novel research, I'm reading a travel memoir by Swedish botanist Karl Linnaeus, who journeyed in 1732 to the far north of his country into "Lapland". He has hardly set out from Uppsala when he stops to marvel—how do the trees know to shut their leaves before the rain? How does the nightingale know to sing for summer?
All the way in 2020, Attenborough and I echo the same amazement—how do elephants know when water unseen lies closest to the surface? How are pelicans aware it rained 500 kilometres away? How do salmon navigate rivers? Or whales the vast oceans? If we choose to pay attention, the natural world is filled with marvel after marvel, and what emerges from my engagement with Linnaeus and Netflix is this—at a time of climate crisis, our greatest hope lies in compassion and discipline, of course, but it's also wonder that may save us.
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