Tending The Scars In The World: On Birches, Play, Sand Pipers and Childhood

There is an awful lot to like about Robert Frost’s poem “Birches” but the first three lines will do for now:
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
It is such a sweet vision. That those trees are bending not from the wind but from the boys who have somehow taken their allotment of joy on that day on and in the utterly climbable birches. And perhaps the birches are echoing back that joyous play in their bending. Playing back. I’ve been lucky enough in my life as a boy to have had times to play outside and swing on trees in summers past. Back wedged against the trunk, inching up the thick barked stand, veiled by pine needles. I would have stayed longer and maybe never left, despite my hunger and my hands still sticky from pine sap and then blackened by sweat and dirt. But the purpling sky took steady steps towards a colder and darker blue and then edging to black. The gulls had stopped their echoed cawing and ceased winging for the night. And though I couldn’t actually hear her voice, I heard my mother wanting me to be home. And so I went and left those trees. Maybe those ragged sandy pines missed me too a little bit. Maybe they missed me when the wind blew through them and shook them gently like I did when climbing. Maybe.

These kinds of gambols of our childhood are worthy all to themselves but often they are made far and forgot. Left behind for more productive things. You don’t need to be a believer in 1 Corinthians 13:11 to have been impacted by it: “When I was a child I spake as a child, understood as a child, understood as a child, thought as a child. But when I became a man I put away childish things.”

You can get the wisdom of the verse, to be sure, while also maybe feeling the stifling boot heel of it as well. The wisdom? Surely there is a time that childhood must properly end. And yet there are still those who pass as adults but still have all the greedy and grabby uninitiated hands of children whose hands leave bigger holes in the world than children ever do. Becoming an adult is not strictly a consequence of getting older. But without enthroning children there is a virtue to the value and perspective of the child that is often too easily and quickly discarded in this version of culture that we inhabit as well.

What could be more quintessentially childlike and useless (in the best sense of the word) than building sand castles at the beach and boring holes in them?

Some of those very same sand castle builders grew up to be…sand castle builders.
The Surrey Wildlife Trust in England has recently hired professional sand castle builders to make a 400 ton simple sand castle wall in Spynes Mere, near Merstham, Surrey in order to make a better home for sand martins
James Herd, project manager at Surrey Wildlife Trust, said: “Sand martin numbers have plummeted twice in the last 50 years as a result of droughts in their wintering grounds in Africa.

“In the UK, the natural nesting inland habitat along riverbanks has decreased as rivers pass through more urbanised areas and under roads, and quarrying has ceased,” he added. “So creating this nest bank is important to protect them against the boom and bust nature of their nesting sites and give more security for the population to expand.”

The structure, said Herd, would give the sand martins the chance to return to nest safely year after year at Spynes Mere, a part of the Nutfield Marshes that was originally created from a restored sand extraction site.

But the structure itself is just the outer defenses of a sand castle writ large. Solid but also fragile and diggable for sand martins. Just the right mix of local sand and water and packed in by a bunch of artists from the art collective Sand In Your Eye. The notion that this most simple and childlike skill is being employed to simply invite the living world back to a place where it has been driven from is perhaps the best thing you could ask from art.
An understandable kind of misanthropy emerges when an assessment of humans and the damage done by them to the natural world (which is plenty and overwhelming) and the verdict is “humans can’t do any good in the world” and all sorts of things follow from that. Again, an understandable place to get to. But it isn’t necessarily so. It isn’t mandatory that it must be that way. There was a time when humans helped make the world go on, yes they took from it too, but there was a kind of reciprocity inbuilt into the makings of their days. This sandcastle in service to sand martins is a remembering of that kind and type of work in the world. That it has all the innocences of children’s play embedded in it is all the better. May there be more of such things in the world that leaves a smaller mark and affirms life and place.

Primal Derma is, I pray, a smaller manifestation of such things. Through using the tallow that we harvest and save, farmers who are making the ecologically wise but economically hard choice of regenerative agriculture those farms are part of tending to the scars left in other parts of the world from more destructive farms. Their work allows them to be claimed by the places they tend to in a way that industrial agriculture never could be. There is a love of place that is fostered in such a way that is rare indeed. As Robert Frost says later in his poem “Birches”
Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.

May your tallowed skincare regimen be a reminder that it came from a place and animal that was and is well loved in their tangled, old romance.

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