A Letter to the Earth from Anna Hope
Letters to the Earth is a landmark book chronicling the reactions and opinions of a diverse range of people - both famous and unknown - to the ever worsening global climate crisis. Here, Anna Hope, the author of Expectation and Wake, gives her unique perspective on the most pressing issue of our time.
It is the year of fracture. Of starting to understand.
It is spring.
I write in a wooden cabin at the bottom of the garden with a view over the pond. The dragonflies come there. There is flag iris and gunnera. There are newts.
I have a daughter. She plays in the garden, she loves the sandpit. She is two years old.
I am writing a book – researching for a story – and one bright morning I type in a phrase.
How long till societal collapse …
And then I read. About locked-in tipping points, the non-linear, graphs that are jagged, saw-toothed. Unpredictable. Terrifying.
I look out, at my daughter, to where she plays in the sand.
All spring, as the world greens and blooms, I try to talk about it, this new story, which has fractured my own – my sense of what a story should be. And people listen and nod and agree and glaze a little but mostly say yes, yes, I know it’s terrible. But it might not happen. It might not.
The spring becomes summer and the summer is hot.
We drive to the coast and eat on the beach and swim and agree it is amazing, this weather – to be able to plan things! To be able to say, Let’s meet on the beach next Friday too! Our children love the warmth. They run around with nothing on. We grow used to it. We look at each other and smile, and grow brown and happy in the sun.
But the sun does not cease. The garden grows brown too. The gunnera grows crispy and dies. The pond dries up. Where do the newts go? They have disappeared.
We agree it would be good to have a bit of rain. The rain does not come.
The year turns, becomes autumn. Each morning, it seems, there is more bad news: twelve years to change course, the insect apocalypse – they have gone, apparently, while no one was looking. Disappeared. No one knows where.
It is November and dark at four o’clock. The year is contracting. There is fear in the house. I read paper after paper. Papers that tell us we may only have ten years left. That we should start to prepare. To adapt. To imagine starving to death, really quite soon.
I have a friend who is staying with me, and she and I stand in the kitchen in the dim mornings and talk in hushed voices as though afraid of being overheard.
What would we do? If it came to it? She is a doctor and she mentions cyanide. When she talks of cyanide I keep seeing that bit in Downfall – that film of the last days of Hitler? – where they are all in the bunker and they know it is the end and Goebbels’s wife is putting the cyanide pills in her children’s mouths while they are sleeping and then cracking their jaws to release the poison. Crack crack crack. The look on her face. All of them in their little bunks.
I think, Are we really talking about this? Standing here, either side of the butcher’s block, two middle-aged, middle-class women – talking about the possible end?
I look at places online. Wales. Connemara. Places with water, with rivers, a well.
I say to my husband, We have to buy land. Sell up. Go to Ireland. Buy some acres. Learn to farm. Bore holes. All of that.
My husband shakes his head, he does not seem afraid. He says, We have always lived in uncertain times.
I had therapy once, when I was trying to have a child. I tried to have a child for years and years. Sometimes I would feel aberrant, outside of nature. Sometimes I would wonder if this is how the earth felt, old and sad and sick with grief, struggling to bring forth life.
Anyway, this therapist, I said to her, I love my mother. She’s amazing. She’s an earth mother. She baked and she cooked and she made and she held us.
And she looked at me, this therapist, and nodded in that way they have.
Mothers have many sides, she said. They are not just benign.
Mothers can turn. Be jagged, saw-toothed, unpredictable. Furious. Uncontainable. Unreliable. Mothers can turn.
I have begun to pray. I find myself praying. By trees. On earth.
I lie in my bed with my daughter beside me. I like to sleep beside her, these nights. To feel her animal warmth. She should sleep in her own bed, but it is nice like this, burrowed down together, as though we are in a den. And she is a cub. Outside – beyond the windows, the owls call to each other, over the dark fields, hunting in the night.
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