by Peta Joyce

As I took my daily walk with the low sunlight filtering through the trees, making patterns of light and shadow, it struck me what a time of light and dark we are walking through. A time of kindness and concern, rest and reflection, regenerating nature, connection and hope for the future. And a time of fear, isolation, uncertainty, desperation and death.

One loud public discourse is all about battle; fighting the virus, frontline workers, sacrifice and survival, the death of life as we know it and creating a new future. The virus is seen as an enemy to be guarded against with no contact, strict hygiene, and closing borders. The battle mentality is another expression of humanity against nature, of the ‘civilised’ human world against the ‘wild, unpredictable’ natural world. A denial of the cycles of death and rebirth. The global response is one of control, surveillance, data, and fighting. Another discourse is about realising that we are all one world, we are connected as never before, and ceasing our activity is bringing surprises like clearer air and water, peaceful cities and native creatures venturing into urban areas. It is also bringing sharply into focus the inequalities, the people and activities that serve life, and those that don’t.

It helps me to hold these polarities if I think with nature, rather than against it. As the autumn leaves fall to the ground, the sun rises later and sets earlier, the last of the summer harvest is gathered in, I notice acutely that the earth is drawing in, shedding what is no longer needed, turning towards the dark and the cold, settling in to a time of winter sleep and rest. It will be a long time before we see the light return and the new growth bursting forth in spring. A time to contemplate death and loss, what to harvest of the autumn to nurture us in the dark, what do we need (or are forced) to let go of?

But even before we’ve completed that cycle, letting in what is happening and still to come, and fully grieved what is lost or dying, the discourse is about returning to ‘normal’ or creating a new world. I’m drawn to exciting discussions about envisioning a new future. it gives me a sense of agency and control in the uncomfortable world of uncertainty and the unknown. Can I let go of leaping too soon into the regeneration of spring, of returning to the ‘known’ world? Can I let myself go fully in to the dark, the unknown, waiting and listening for what will emerge? Can I really grieve for what is dying and give it the time to rot and decay, to feed the soil? Can I let go of putting myself and my own desires and needs at the centre of my world and open to the common good, despite what that might mean for me?

My ancient ancestors knew how to honour this time of going in to the dark. April 30th marks the festival of Samhain, when the boundary between the known and unknown worlds is thin. The ancestors and those more recently dead are celebrated, thanks given for their gifts and tears shed for their loss. A time of stillness and remembrance. And then there’s Anzac day too….

I’m deeply grateful to the grounding of nature and the reminder that we are all a part of the natural world, of the cycles of death, chaos and uncertainty as well as birth, growth and beauty.