Richard Dawkins

Dara McAnulty: It’s time to grab the slippery eel of hope

The 16-year-old winner of the Wainwright Prize for nature writing on why frogspawn, birdsong and President Joe Biden are making him feel optimistic about the prospects of the planet.

Dara McAnulty

Hope can feel like an oscillating journey between light and dark, as slippery as an eel, as dangerous as walking blindfolded on a cliff edge. It can feel like clamouring and clawing at thin air. In a world that is at this moment resurrecting in slow motion, from monumental pain and suffering, the expectation that things will get better is the notion that keeps us moving forward. It directs our humanity and our sense of purpose

A few days ago, I felt the first whisperings of spring and whilst peering into a pool of bubbling, squirming frogs, felt the first flutterings of what we refer to as ‘Hope’. I had an expectation that seeing this spectacle at some point this month, would happen, and it did! This moment, suspended in a place of reassurance, is echoed daily in the natural world. Small fascinations, curiosities… tangible distractions from despair. The frogs didn’t just appear though, I had to search for them. I had to walk a path in order to find them. I needed to have the knowledge that they would be, there. Of course, the seasonal happenings of natural cycles are ever present but there is a thrust that enables us to interact, to notice, to feel connected.

In a tumultuous period in history, witnessing frogs and frogspawn as hope may seem ridiculous. Perhaps, when we think globally, and all the ills of the earth pass before our eyes, painfully pummelling our synapses, it might seem a benign folly. But when we magnify into the ecosystem of our daily lives, it might be that shaft of brightness that makes or breaks your day. My family and I, we skipped along on our walk after this encounter, we shone from the inside out. Our outlook changed.

'Soon swifts and swallows will be scything the skies'

Tomorrow, or indeed in the next hour, some weight might crash against our shores. Real life is difficult – so difficult right now – but the turnings of the natural world are constant. As spring spins forth it brings an abundance of newness, of light. The garden birds are beginning to sing with such urgency, notes blasting from their pulsing chests, and the sound of it makes my life more bearable. Soon swifts and swallows will be scything the skies, bubbling little beacons, beckoning us towards a path of knowing, should we choose to walk it.

Right now, most of us are still confined and we must grab small, close utterings of joy to shield our fragile mindsets. Installing bird feeders in our tiny garden ensures a daily offering of winged life. Flitting in and out of each repetitive moment, they have brought such a resurgence of instant happiness. Goldfinches, redpolls, siskins; such glorious names to speak aloud and share simple moments with.

Alongside these tiny miracles are the big news hollerings of hope, that newly elected US President, Joe Biden has rejoined the Paris Climate Accord. Signalling a more determined contribution to combat climate catastrophe. The weight of the previous presidential reign of environmental abuse has lifted and the question of the future of our planet will be raised to the status we all desperately need.

'The youth activist movement is so strong and courageous right now'

The youth activist movement is so strong and courageous right now, I have no doubt that we will all join forces to beam the spotlight onto the expectation, or hope, that all decision making should have the health of our earth at its core. This is the slippery eel kind of hope, but we must keep demanding, pleading. Perhaps president Biden can ensure change here in the UK, also.

Hope is such an awkward and personal perception. The emotional response we have to keep going, to find solutions, will vary. Knowing though, that we are all a part of an interconnected ecosystem that miraculously gives light, air, water and sustenance, that has, over billions of years, provided us with everything that is fundamentally necessary to living, provides the brightest form of loving reciprocity. Look up, look out and within. It beats there, hope.

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Dara McAnulty is the author of Diary of a Young Naturalist.

Reasons for Hope is a series of essays to mark the one year anniversary of the Covid-19 crisis. The author's fee for this article is being donated to the National Literacy Trust. Read more of the essays here.

Image: Alicia Fernandes / Penguin  

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