Damien Enright: Children’s joy back on the street as island lockdown lifted

Damien Enright: Children’s joy back on the street as island lockdown lifted
Herons: among the birds relaxing as nature is relatively empty of humans in lockdown.

On April 25th, this Canary island of La Gomera was declared coronavirus-free. There were no deaths. Remoteness was an important factor.

La Gomera, smaller El Hierro, and tiny Graciosa will be allowed to exit restriction a week ahead of elsewhere. Remote Formentera, in the Balearics, where I lived in the early 1960s, will enjoy the same privilege.

We’re near release. A final week of confinement is to be endured but it is heartening to see, from our windows, the joy of children in the street. One parent at a time is allowed to take offspring of under 14 outdoors. Now, there they are, children in their best clothes, hopping and skipping along beside their mam or dad.

How radically the energy of children changes the street view below our windows. Where we’ve only seen sometime shoppers heading to or from to the supermarket, now, before our eyes, the world is returning to some sort of reality, some sort of relaxation, and we stand enthralled by the sight of everyday normality returning again.

We went up the valley, my wife to water my son’s vegetable garden, while I scanned for news for friends and readers at home in West Cork. The first person we met — all of us maintaining ‘distancing’ — was a young farmer called Fabian, who insisted on giving us a heavy-duty bucket full of potatoes and onions. He was filling another when we said to stop.

He had ‘un monton de papas’, he said, more than he could use or sell — normally, he gets €1.10 per kilo —because transport was impossible in the coronavirus crisis. We thanked him as he went back to work with his sacho, the tool of choice for digging, uprooting and scraping in these islands. The next day, my wife went to the frozen food emporium and bought lamb chops and, with carrots and the rest, produced an Irish stew all but as good as we might have at home.

I could write a chapter of a book about how the slopes of this valley are terraced and farmed, about the fecundity of the land, and the vast variety of fruit and vegetables grown. We come here not only for the blue skies, blue seas and black beaches, but for the produce of the land and the beauty of the mountains. For the rest of my earthly, I hope not to miss a visit every year.

But visiting anywhere beyond home will, in the future, raise serious ethical questions. The planet has been relieved, albeit temporarily, by the cessation of destruction brought about by this pandemic. Nature has been given a rest. A friend at home tells me that starlings have nested in half the houses along the street and the bay teems with birds and is “as it used to be” until the acceleration of environmental damage and chaos visited upon west Cork, and rural Ireland, in the last 30 years.

When Sean Dunne first asked me to contribute to this newspaper in 1990, I wrote about the thousands of golden plover and tens of thousands of birds then on the estuary. There were knot, there were lapwings, golden plover, curlews, godwit, merganser, snipe; there were owls, barn owls, seen at night, every night, in our garden trees. Now, they are gone or their numbers reduced to iotas of what they were, and should be still. But the skies are polluted, the insects that gave them sustenance poisoned and the seas ravished and raped. So what are we to do?

On one question international scientists can almost universally agree. It was our onslaughts on the life-giving, life-sustaining systems of the natural world that ushered in this pandemic, and others will follow. They say that this is as sure as the rising and declining of the sun.

Can it be that this pandemic will open the eyes, the minds, and the energies of governments to change, to put the sustaining of life on earth ahead of the obscene gorging of natural wealth which is the death-wish fashion of today?

Human incentive must cease to be personal indulgence, but security of the planet and sustenance of all life upon it. An obvious priority should be the urgent funding of minimum environmental-damage transport. Hyperloop is a promising idea.

As for trips to my idyllic island, previously I’ve tried to compensate for the carbon emissions of my flights by paying for extensive tree planting and so on.

I will now study emissions reduction by taking a ship rather than a plane. It will take days of shipboard from Ireland to Spain, then from Spain to the Canaries. But what the hell, I have ‘promises’ to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and so on.

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