Monday, 22 February 2016

Of high tides and floods

Written on 11th February 2016:

Yesterday was a spring tide, and the Thames in Twickenham flooded the local park and submerged the wheels of  bicycles and cars parked along the riverside. These exceptionally high tides might not be good news for inattentive motorists, but they bring out a spirit of freedom and joy among people. We talk to each other and stop to gaze at the ducks, geese and swans swimming around park benches and parked cars. Children and dogs frolic in the water, indifferent to the cold. People take out mobile phones and begin clicking away, while more serious photographers arrive with cameras slung round their necks to capture the changing landscape, the human interactions with birds and dogs, and the play of light on water. Yesterday, high tide came as the sun was setting, turning the water to pink and gold as it rippled with the movements of a soft breeze. All this made me reflect on the intimate intensity of our relationship with weather.

This has been a week of pastel skies, glorious dawns and gentle sunlight, heralding the arrival of spring. The houseboat has swayed gently on the rising tide, its whispers and shivers becoming a rocking lullaby as I sleep. But last weekend, London was lashed by storms, and the boat heaved and shuddered, straining against its moorings and pounding back against the dock with an alarming thump. My husband fretted in case the wooden extension he built on the deck didn't withstand the gales. Would the roof blow off? Would the walls collapse? I pretended an insouciance I didn't feel, because after all, this boat was my idea and I mustn't admit defeat. I did however sneak out many times to check that the water wasn't lashing up over the hull.

Elsewhere in Britain, people have been flooded out of their homes by a succession of severe storms. Some have been killed by crashing cars and falling trees. The spring time tides which can bring such delight are the close relations of these deadly floods, just as the winter snowfalls which bring out apple-cheeked children on sleds and turn us all into children at heart can become blizzards that turn familiar landscapes into frozen wildernesses.

We should heed the warnings of the weather. Nature is an awesome mystery not to be domesticated, with a spirit that is free from human control. We must learn to respect these rhythms - nature's cycles and tides, seasons and moods. We must learn to dance to nature's tune, for nature will never fall into step with the marching drumbeat of human time, measured in the tethering of the minutes and hours and days to profitability and progress.

Nature loops and swirls and dances around us and within us to the music of life itself. We can choose to join the dance, but the dance will go on without us. The insects and birds, the fish and the animals, the tides and the winds and the rain, the trees and the flowers and the butterflies, all will continue, for they are the dance and the dance is in them. The dance of life will go on, but whether we are part of it depends on how we choose to live, and time is running out for us to make that choice. Spring tides or deadly floods? Snowmen and toboggans, or blizzards and gales? Warm summer days, or scorching droughts? The choice is ours. The simple pleasures we take in nature's tender gifts should not blind us to the whirlwind we might reap if we forget our place in the harmony of creation. We must learn to dance all over again, and that is an arduous discipline as well as a joyous freedom.