Dreaming Of Another World

On the 17th of March 2020 I was sat in my car about to go into a primary school to run an after-school writing club. I checked my phone and found an email from one of the other schools I work at, stating that schools would be closing at the end of the week and all clubs were cancelled. I felt a whoosh of fear and shock and checked my news feed for more information, all of which confirmed that the government were closing schools and putting us into lockdown due to the outbreak of Covid 19. It was probably the most surreal moment of my life. I went into the school and ran the club and I haven’t seen those children since. I haven’t been able to work since either, apart from a few bits online. I can’t yet go back to the libraries, museums, halls and schools I normally work in.

At the end of that week, life changed for everyone over night, just like that. I blogged about it almost instantly because it was just so strange, so historical and unprecedented and because writing about it helped me to make sense of it. Here’s the link to that post; https://chantelleatkins.com/2020/03/18/and-just-like-that-everything-changed/

And then, being the highly adaptable creatures we often forget we are, we all just got on with it. We worked from home, or we didn’t work, we home schooled our confused children, we stayed in, we entertained ourselves, we thanked fuck the internet existed and we very slowly but surely got used to a new normal. Humans are adaptable. We’ve proved that. Perhaps we’ve all realised how resilient we are capable of being. At the start of this, I blogged about how everything had changed over night, I blogged about the ups and downs of home schooling and I blogged about how weird had become the new normal, as well as the positives I hoped could come out of the pause in our lives.

Life is for many of us, slowly returning to normal. At the start of lockdown, it was eerily quiet in our garden, with barely any cars sailing by. Instead we had a constant flow of walkers and cyclists. Now it’s back to normal and that’s a bit sad. But I’m one of them now, aren’t I? Doing the school run again.

And I can’t help feel a bit lost and sad. Don’t get me wrong. I want all of my children to return to their normal lives and I am desperate to get back to my writing clubs and workshops. I just can’t help comparing the stillness, the silence, the gentle creep of Mother Nature reclaiming what is hers, at the start of lockdown, to the way it was before Covid 19 stopped us all in our tracks.

But the return to everything else makes me feel sad. Driving here and there, constantly in traffic and adding to the fumes that are heating up our only planet. Racing against the clock to get it all done, pick everyone up and get everyone where they need to be, dreading getting up and it all starting again.

What we were doing to the planet before Covid 19 was wrong. All of it was wrong. And we knew that…yet we couldn’t or wouldn’t change. And then lockdown… clear skies, grounded planes, silent roads, birdsong, sheep playing on roundabouts and deer walking down the streets, dolphins in the canals of Venice…so many beautiful, beautiful sights. And in our homes, we became creative. We sought out more and more ways to entertain ourselves and our children. We got into gardening! And self-sufficiency! We worried about where food came from and whether we could get any. Our eyes were being opened and we found we were not helpless. We had power.

I’ve always been into gardening, with varying degrees of success. I think it is actually one of the most therapeutic and simultaneously rebellious things you can do. It’s hopeful. To believe in a garden is to believe in tomorrow, they say. And that is so true…. On my darkest days, when life weighs so heavy I can’t breathe…I need my garden, I need fresh air and grass and dirt under my nails. If I plant something, I am optimistic. I am hopeful. And I am clawing back power. We used to feed ourselves; we had that power and that connection with Mother Nature, and not even that long ago. But we’ve lost it, moved so far away from it we forgot it was even possible.

And to care about this planet we have to feel connected to it! We have to feel part of it, part of everything and we have to believe that everything has a right to be here, to be treated with respect and dignity.

And during lockdown, the most amazing things happened. People started growing again. There was a massive increase in people buying seeds and plants and greenhouses. I was overjoyed to see this, even among my friends and family and social media contacts. People were discovering, many of them for the first time, how addictive gardening is. People were getting excited about growing a lettuce or picking their own strawberries. There was also an increase in people getting chickens for the first time. And undoubtedly, there has been an increase in people exploring their local wild places and perhaps fully appreciating the natural world for the first time too. Pond dipping, bird watching, identifying trees and leaves, bug hunting, walking and hiking and playing in rock pools. I have seen so much of this going on and it’s absolutely heartwarming.

But what now? Do we all go back to our ordinary lives and forget any of this happened? I really hope not. I really hope people continue to think about where their food comes from, continue to grow some of it themselves, continue to make ethical consumer choices, continue to do their bit to fight climate change, continue to respect animals and wildlife, continue to walk and cycle if they can and so on. Because I don’t know about you but I am constantly dreaming of another world.

Another world where we are connected to wildlife and nature, where we respect and value and protect it above all else. Where money and wealth are not idolised or deemed more important than human happiness and dignity.

Sometimes I go there in my mind and wonder if I can make it possible, even just for me and my family. It’s perhaps not realistic, but something I can’t stop thinking about it. I call it my basic life. Because going back to basics is what I crave. In my basic life, I live in a log cabin in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees and rivers and streams and meadows. I grow all my own food and keep ducks and chickens and perhaps a few goats.

I have solar panels, wind turbines and a well. I have orchards. I go out each day and forage for food. I cook everything from scratch. I only go to the nearest town once a month for other supplies. I only have limited access to the internet. My kids are home schooled and spend their days swimming in rivers, climbing trees and learning survival skills. We sit around the fire outside at night under the stars, swapping stories and jokes.

I spend my time growing food, tending the animals and the children, writing, reading and listening to music and we are all at peace and at one with the Universe. Did I also mention our only means of transport is a battered VW campervan?

Haha, just a pipedream, but I like it. I go there in my head at night. I try to build up little parts of it in my real life, such as extending my vegetable plot so I can grow even more next year.

I dream of my basic life and another world while fearing and grieving for this one.

What about you? What do you hope changes when this is all over? Do you think this will ever be over? What do you think should change? Will you be changing anything in your own life? What kind of other world do you dream about?

The Tree Of Rebels and Disconnection From Nature

So it’s finally here! The day has finally arrived! Sometimes when in the middle of writing and rewriting and crafting a book, publication day can feel like an impossibility. Something so far in the future it feels like it will never happen. The Tree Of Rebels¬†felt like an impossible thing more than once. This was a very tough book to write and one I had a constant love/hate relationship with. It’s very different from my other books and I wrote it with an audience in mind, something I’d never done before.

As I’ve mentioned before, the seed of this book was sown while scrolling through Facebook one day. I’d kept seeing these petitions to sign to stop Monsanto patenting seeds. I didn’t understand a lot of it, but what I did read and digest alarmed me and got the cogs turning in my head. I’ve often thought about nature and who owns it. Have you ever walked through the woods or across a field, only to be stopped by a fence and a Private Property sign? Have you ever stood on a high hill and looked down at the landscape and realised how restricted our movements actually are? How the paths and roads have been laid out for you and how signs and fences stop us roaming as we once did?

The more I thought about large corporations owning seeds and nature and having that control over the food chain, the more I imagined a frightening dystopian world where growing your own food is banned. This might seem like a far fetched idea right now, but for some people this is already becoming a reality. Believe it or not, there are places in America where people are not allowed to have backyard gardens or chickens. Where people can be arrested for attempting to gather rainwater. The frightening future is already on its way…

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Distrustful of GMO’s, hormones in meat, anti-biotics in milk and pesticides on fruit and vegetable, more and more people are turning to growing their own food. Self-sufficiency is becoming popular again, and you can’t deny this is a form of rebellion, of taking back control. It’s vital for our planet too. The meat and dairy industry is literally killing the earth.

Dystopian future in mind, I already knew I wanted to write a young adult book. The protagonist, 13-year-old Lissie had been evolving in my imagination for some time, and now she finally had a place to play and grow. The book undoubtedly evolved into something more than I had envisioned. It’s not just about seeds or a post-apocalyptic future, it’s about rebellion, questioning the status quo, defying your parents and searching for the truth, no matter who it hurts. All classic issues in the complicated journey of growing up.

But one of the main messages I hope people pick up from this book if they do indeed pick up any is the consequences of becoming disconnected from nature.

I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer. A head in the clouds type of girl. I love nothing more than a walk down the lane, to the river, or across the fields, the common, or the woods. Something special happens to us when we are in nature, when we walk barefoot upon the earth, when we touch trees, smell leaves and view flowers and wild animals. Sometimes I think I might be a bit odd. I have very strong urges to touch and hug trees. They call to me, they really do. Once I lay my hand on the trunk of an ancient Oak, I find it very hard to pull away. I can’t get over the fact they are helping me to breathe! They are eating pollution. Without them, we would all die. The same goes for the humble bee and other vital pollinators. We simply cannot afford to ignore nature. We are nature. And I truly worry that many of us have forgotten.

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Where I live is very beautiful, but I fear that others do not see it. When they race their cars down the narrow lane and hurl their rubbish into the bushes, I fear they never linger long enough to see the beauty and majesty of the trees. I fear they have no clue that they would die if the trees were not there. I’m fascinated by the unseen lives of birds, insects, and animals. I’ll stare at birds in the sky, watching their flight, hearing their cry, wondering where they are going and where they live and what they do. I want to know. I want to be part of their world. Sometimes I feel like I am trespassing. Especially come dusk when the bats start circling and the owls start hooting. This is their time, not mine. How they must despise us, I often think.

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I think the thing we are often missing is gratitude and wonder. I am in awe of nature which makes me want to protect and nurture it. Sadly, others just don’t see it at all. In truth, this means they do not see themselves. They are disconnected from it, therefore they don’t care about it or appreciate it. If you don’t care about something, or see the value in it, you’re not going to go out of your way to protect it, are you?

In Lissie’s world, the people are taken care of. They are housed and fed and educated and worked. There is no war or violence. They have returned to traditional ways, fearful of the technological world that enabled war and destruction to almost wipe out the entire human race. But in order to keep them contained, the people are separate from nature. Food is grown and delivered to them. Animals are raised in domes . Unwanted plants are circled and torn up. Wild animals are feared and killed. They know very little of the natural world. And this is all sold to them as the perfect world. A society without war and hunger and homelessness. A safe, sheltered, catered for life. It’s Lissie who resists this version of life and strives to find out more about the outside world. A true rebel, spurred on by the dying words of her Great-Grandmother, she seeks the truth. What happened to the Old World? Who destroyed it and why?

Please feel free to leave a comment! What are your fears for the future? Do you enjoy reading post-apocalyptic or dystopian books, and if so why? How do you feel about the issues of humans becoming disconnected from nature? What can we do about any of it? I would love to hear your thoughts!