“As a species, we used to be deeply connected to nature, to the wild.” – Becca Piastrelli, Root & Ritual
Over this past while, and especially whilst working on the first draft of my book, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to find belonging in a place. I am Northern Ireland born and bred, and, apart from the few years I spent away at university in England, this has always been where I have lived and loved. It is unquestionably the place I call ‘home’. Yet, in this noisy, attention-distracting world, I can often feel disconnected from what that means. In this era of the global village, our sense of belonging sometimes feels more fragile than ever. I know I’m from this land. Cut from it’s rock, heather and bog-lands. It has made me all that I am today. As a child growing up a the tale-end of The Troubles, it broke my heart time and time again to see this land terrorised, its people so divided, towns and cities wrecked on repeat for a cause I didn’t comprehend, and still don’t really. But oh, how I love this place, and its people with every fibre of my being. We are a resilient bunch that’s for sure, a people whose generosity, warmth and sense of humour knows no bounds, no matter what side of town you’re from or which flag you are told is yours. I yearn so deeply for this land to be healed, for hearts to be mended, for the people of this place to rise up, to say no once and for all to the old stories that can and must no longer keep us divided, to work together so that Northern Ireland becomes known as a place where true healing has taken place, where the people from every side of town saw a new vision of hope and endeavoured to work towards it.
Some people might say it’s impossible, that I am cuckoo, a dreamer…
But the world needs dreamers… and visionaries… artists… poets… thinkers… and solution-finders… get up and doers…. activists… and healers… teachers… it needs change-makers…
The old systems are no longer serving us and we are crying out for a different path forwards into a future that works for everyone. We’ve been crying out for it for a long time and it feels like in this time of a global pandemic that there has been a collective awakening, there is a new awareness that change is possible and there’s a hunger to see it brought about in the here and now. Not tomorrow. Today.
My ultimate dream would be for Northern Ireland to be a world-leader in coming up with ways to deal with the climate crisis, the biggest challenge facing the earth and all its inhabitants in our modern times I believe. I can imagine Northern Ireland setting an example, leading the way in healing the damage done to soil, to waterways, in leading in tree-planting, habitat and species preservation, of finding new ways to live on this earth that are not damaging. There are so many great innovators and thinkers out there just waiting to voice their ideas and solutions. It’s time politicians and decision-makers, those with the power to make it a reality, stopped to listen. To really listen.
As someone who loves this place and as someone who has experienced first-hand the power of nature to process and overcome personal trauma, I can’t help thinking that some of what we need to make change happen starts at a grassroots level. Like, on your face actually in the mud, grassroots…
When I’m feeling a bit lost of disconnected, one of the things that immediately brings me back into a place of feeling well and like I belong somewhere, is getting out into nature. The benefits of time spent in nature on our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing are very well documented these days. We all know how much better we feel after a walk in the woods or dander along the beach, it lifts our mood, puts life in perspective, soothes us, holds us when we are perhaps broken or grieving. But, I can’t help wondering if perhaps, to bring about change on a political level, we need to spend more time getting our hands dirty, growing and sowing, walking barefoot on the sand, lying beneath the stars, listening to the birds sing, building bug huts, planting a garden for the bees and butterflies…if at this very basic level of getting close to nature, learning to love the land we find ourselves in, we will be more inclined to want to protect to, to partake in the responsibility of its care.
Yesterday, I went for a walk in Belvoir Forest Park, a place I’ve spent much time during the past two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, a place where I’ve cried with despair at the enormity of it all, a place I’ve been able to just fully feel it all and be myself, a place where I’ve felt held and accepted when I have been struggling.
I have a bit of an obsession with fungus, so as I wandered slowly amongst the trees I snapped a few pictures of my favourites and I also gathered some cleavers, some of which I infused in water last night and some of which I have turned into a tincture – a simple remedy for shifting stagnant energy as we move into the spring season, a gift straight from the ground.
Such a simple thing, meandering in the forest, and yet, in taking time to slow down, to observe, to notice, to forage a little and also say a word of thanks, an offering of gratitude, I felt like I was truly part of the forest, part of this land. And, it’s this sense of belonging that has in recent times been igniting within me this desire to use my words, and my voice to speak on behalf of this place that is my home and our wider world too, our collective home. My heart aches that we treat our precious earth so destructively, and in turn, as we treat our earth, abusing her, stealing from her, bleeding her dry, so we treat the most vulnerable and most marginalised people and the creatures that we share this earth with. It’s all connected. We need change badly, and we need it now, before it’s too late.
I’m not a politician, I don’t know how to negotiate deals. I’m not a climate activist, or any kind of activist for that matter! Would I rather hide in a cave than speak up about my concerns and my passion for things to be different? Yes, of course! Standing up, putting your voice, opinions and ideas ‘out there’ scares the living daylights out of me, makes my tummy flip and my limbs quake. But will I hide? No. Not any more. There’s simply too much at stake. I may not be a politician, an activist, power-holder or decision-maker, but, I am a mum of three and a woman who longs for a healthier, more just, whole world, and… I have a voice and a laptop… I can speak up and demand better, for my children, for your children, for myself and for our world.
Being born and growing up somewhere doesn’t always lead to feeling like you belong of course, and, some people have an innate call or feeling of belonging in a land they weren’t birthed or raised in, something deep within them they allows them to feel connected to a place. Sometimes we belong somewhere for a season. Sometimes it lasts a lifetime. It is unique to each of us and it seems important to our sense of self that we know belonging. It is also possible to cultivate a relationship with the land you find yourself in. In her insightful and beautiful book ‘Root & Ritual’, Becca Pisatrelli discusses some possible ways to create and nurture a friendship with the place you are in, some of which I found really useful and some which I was already doing without realising I was growing in my relationship and sense of belonging in the place I find myself at this point in time. Some of her suggestions include: growing plants, connecting to place through food and folklore, gathering and foraging, making meaningful friendships and making a sacred home. It’s a really worthwhile read if you want to connect or reconnect with where you are in the world – there are so many simple ways to immerse ourselves in the land, so learning once again how to belong more fully, and in turn unite in a rallying call to pursue a better world.