The forces of nature

Nature is deity to Druids, explains conservationist Louise Sutherland

As a child I was deeply inspired by David Attenborough, Diane Fossey and Jean-Michel Cousteau. It was my admiration of them and what they achieved that made me want to work in conservation. I’m very lucky to work in this field and I’m still passionate about it. How does studying Druidry affect this? Although it wasn’t a conscious decision I made, the two are so interwoven it’s hard to pick the reasons apart to explain it.

I always experienced the world as very alive, and when I discovered the words ‘animism’ and ‘polytheism’ they seemed to describe the way I had always thought. It was a revelation to discover a community of people with a similar perspective on the world. Nature is deity to Druids. All forces of nature; from aspects of human nature like lust, to mountains, rivers, darkness or rain. They are all seen as the expression of a different ‘power of nature’. Some call these deities, some call it spirit, some call it energy, but gloriously there is no pretence of this being the “Truth”. Just a wry acknowledgment of each individual perspective determining the different ways people relate to what’s around them. Essentially Druidry is about an individual’s relationship with the world around them. To study it is to learn to be conscious of what you do, how you touch everything around you, from people to places. You could say it’s that awareness that fuels my work in conservation; if you are aware of a the high nitrates in a river killing the life in it, aware of the loss of dragonflies and wetland plants, the fewer bird species filling our skies, aware of the loss of woodland or species rich grassland, then you try to do something and conservation work is about trying to help, to protect species or recreate habitats.

But Druidry as a religion, in the original sense of the word, from the Latin religio - meaning reverence for the divine, goes deeper than that. Druids are priests of the land, my work in conservation is like a service to the gods of the land. My awe of these many, many different gods, listening them whisper through a landscape, feeling the hum of their energy – urges me to find an honourable response, to facilitate a balance between conflicting needs, try to restore what’s lost because everywhere all of nature is sacred.

A Druid working in conservation or a conservationist studying Druidry, strives to make an honourable relationship with the land. If a ‘conservation attitude’ affects their thinking, that relationship will be about protecting and restoring the sacred, natural biodiversity. All of it, from the ignored and concreted land beneath our pavements, to the stones and sand of the concrete, to the high wild mountains, is so filled with life, song and energy. I feel it move deeply through me, it fills me with reverence and inspiration - I couldn’t do anything but conservation!

Louise Sutherland works in conservation and studies druidry
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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood