Remorse is more than regret. Remorse is the wish to turn back the clock and do it right this time. One thing I might do differently if I had the chance would be to treat nature with a little more respect.
I came across an old photo this morning, and it triggered memories of the chalet we rented forty-odd years ago, primarily as a weekend getaway from Geneva and as an opportunity for some winter sports, chiefly cross-country skiing and a bit of sledging. Our first encounter with the place was in the summer. It had lain empty for several years, and nature was in the process of reclaiming the land around it. We were townies, insensitive and opposed to chaos. After our well-intentioned vandalism, we suddenly became aware of what we had destroyed. God’s gardens are the best!
I wrote this in 1977. (By the way, this is my 600th post!)
When we arrived
The chalet was asleep:
Had drawn a curtain of larches
Close around, closed tight
All windows, shutters, doors,
Pulled the meadow up over the garden,
Tucked itself into the long grass and yarrow,
And was settled deep in its summer slumber.
Peaceful and undisturbed
It lay in its innocent wilderness bed,
And we thought
It looked neglected, overgrown.
(Hyper-urbanization blinds us to the instinct
That recognises raw beauty
In a natural state
And murmurs: “Let it be.”)
Overcome by the urge to tidy things up
We gustily set to
To wake it up out of its languor,
And jerk it out of its dream,
Flung open the shutters and windows and doors
Let in the air and the sun and the flies,
And laid into the overgrowth with sickle and scythe.
We slashed down the long grass,
Bay willow herb, cow parsley, buttercups,
Harebells, daisies, Queen Anne’s lace,
Forget-me-nots and all the other
Ravaging the peace with sharp steel blades,
Frightening the frogs,
Dainty gold-green creatures that leapt in panic
Up the tree trunks
Into the stream
Away from the menacing swish of the blade.
We disturbed the lizards and voles,
Scared away the tom-tits and finches,
Besieged the snails
Taking refuge inside their eggshell forts,
Stepped unwittingly on slugs too slow to flee,
Destroyed all their little world
And let the sunshine strike
Onto the grass roots and the moss,
Drying the grass and flowers to hay
While the horseflies and mosquitoes
(An undisciplined but kamikaze airforce)
Bombarded us at our work.
Some battles they did win,
When the sun was on their side, at noon,
And we had scars to show
When we paused to rest,
But in the end the victory was ours
When we came back to the attack
With spray gun reinforcements.
So when we left
The chalet had been shaken from its torpor
The bewildered wilderness had vanished
Into a neat and tidy garden:
And not a creature stirred.
With the relief of winter
The garden heaved a sigh
And slid back into sleep.