I am fortunate enough to live on the edge of a lovely piece of managed woodland, or “common”. The management of this piece of land means that we have areas of woods, meadows, paths for walkers and their dogs and bridleways for horses and their riders. Each year the team make changes – coppicing old trees, cutting the old when needed and tidying the undergrowth. Last autumn they made some major changes in order to clear land for butterfly glades. It is a beautiful spot, allowing for hours and hours of changing scenery as one walks through. As a dog walker, I am daily amazed by the good luck that brought me here and allows me such varied walks without ever having to get into my car. Shadow the dog is more grateful for that than he is aware of. He is not a fan of the automobile…
I was struck yesterday by the changes of the seasons as they pertain to the terrain upon which I tread. Mere months ago, the common was waterlogged after weeks of persistent rain. Intrepid walkers armed with sturdy gumboots and sticks with which to guard against falls had continued to explore the footpaths, while most of them stuck to the harder bridleways. I joined the brave a few times, having invested in some wonderfully warm and solid boots. While Shadow revelled in the uneven land and enjoyed the opportunity to explore the woodland either side of the main path, I struggled. With each footstep I sunk to the ankle and had to suck my foot out of a wet and sticky mass of soil and clay. Before long, I had abandoned such explorations and retreated to the easier path. The ground at that time was malleable, changeable and moulded to whatever impact was thrown upon it.
As summer dried the earth, all the marks of those walkers became fixed, seemingly in stone. The clay hardened into crags and crevices such that not a step could be taken without risk of a turned ankle. That same act of walking that had been so determined by the walker was now determined solely by the ground. Each in turn was implacable and dominant. In the wet of the winter months, the walker controlled (albeit stickily and in lurches and slow sinking steps) and formed the contours of the path. In the dry of the summer, those contours were now controlling the steps of the same walker.
Yesterday, I noticed that as we continued walking, so those miniature valleys and mountains has turned to rolling hills and flattened recesses. Indeed, in the most trodden paths, the terrain was now almost completely flat and walking had become an easy, pleasurable act.
Often, we think that our actions are fixed. They can have good or bad consequences, but those consequences are dependent on the action itself.
It now occurs to me that actions must absolutely be paired with their environment for us to have any idea of the consequence that may follow. That the intricacies of our impact upon our world are far greater than we think, and that we must therefore tread with greater caution than we might originally have considered.
More than anything else in my life, I parent. I have the charge of three amazing human beings as they grow from infancy to childhood, from adolescence to adulthood. And while I have always known that each of them requires different acts of parenting from me because they are so individual, I have often considered that one type of behaviour on my part would have similar consequences on each of them. So while I know that one is unable to act upon a demand, another relishes the structure of instruction. And so I “act” differently accordingly.
What I have been less aware of is that my actions will have very different and lasting consequences depending on the time, the weather, the environment, the mental health of the individual I am with. In particular, I have been less aware than I should have of the long-term impact of some decisions.
For a good few years, Girl thrived in a special school. The staff cared for her very well and she was able to discover much about herself and grow well. The space away from home was also positive.
At some point, things changed. I suspect many small things changed, but life became impassable. Much like the beginning of summer along my paths, walking was treacherous, and for Girl, every part of living became treacherous. I, stubbornly, hopefully, maybe even blindly, considered that this phase would pass, that it was most likely due to changes within her due to puberty or some such issue.
I did not realise then what I am beginning to see now, that the same actions do not always have the same consequence. For whatever complex series of conditions, the school’s actions and behaviours ceased to mould and help and began to harm and traumatise.
There is rarely an easy solution when it comes to humans, and those humans transitioning from childhood to adulthood have a particularly challenging journey to make. Parenting them becomes an obstacle course with no path and no light. Some will seek to train and control their young ones into becoming an adult in their image. I choose to model the kind of adult behaviour I admire. I choose respect of this young human for whom I have great admiration. I choose to accept that their current state is challenging and painful. And I choose to tread with greatest care so as to cause the least possible suffering.
My walk through that woodland yesterday reminded me that the same steps we take every day can be easy or difficult, but can cause damage or repair, all dependent on the day, the weather, and how carefully we tread.