The cold weather has passed. It is thawing, although the earth is still frozen hard. The remaining snow lies thinly on the ground. It melts more quickly around twigs and other debris, slashing dark lines through the white. Along the base of the garden wall, where the earth has stayed soft, badgers looking for grubs and roots have turned up the surface, scattering brown oak leaves over the white surface.



Yesterday I pollarded a hazel tree, so today I am cutting it into firewood. There is a path of grey slush where I have walked between the pile of branches and my saw bench; and another where the wheel of the barrow has rolled from the bench to the pile of cut firewood I am stacking under the hedge. I am enjoying the physical work with my tree saw, while watching the thoughts and reflections that pass through my mind.



For Valentine’s Day the Eradicating Ecocide website invites us to write a love letter to the Earth, a contribution to a campaign for an international law of Ecocide to make our Heads of State legally responsible for the Earth. As I clip twigs into bundles for the bonfire and saw the thicker branches into handy lengths for the fireplace, I wonder what I might write. The melting snow sets me thinking about impermanence. Do we love what is impermanent? What could be more impermanent that snow and last year’s oak leaves in these temperate islands?


The Buddha taught that suffering is caused by attachment: forms are empty, there are no things in themselves. Life is characterized by impermanence, as entities of the world arise and pass away. It is easy to see the impermanence of snow, from that moment when a footprint disturbs the pristine surface to the dripping thaw that leaves bedraggled patches in shaded places. We can grasp the cycle of seasons, watching how the oak sprouts young leaves that mature, fall and slowly rot away. Maybe we can glimpse the hundreds of years that form the cycle of the oak tree’s life. It is less easy, maybe not even possible, to grasp the immense planetary cycles in which we are embedded, those cycles that maintain the composition of the atmosphere, the patterns of temperature and rainfall, the emergence and decline of civilizations and even of species like our own.


I worked with a koan that addressed these issues on a Chan Buddhist retreat a few years ago:


The grieving Lady said, “Master, truly—presence is impermanent, but absence is permanent”.

“Quite so,” said the Master.


We may learn through Buddhist and other practice to release our attachment to forms, to accept impermanence, even death, as part of life. But what we are seeing in the ecological crisis is not simply death: the disappearance of species, the destruction of ecosystems, the disruption of the great cycles of the Planet, are impermanence of a different order. They are the disruptions of the process of life itself, permanent loss of evolutionary complexity, permanent endings of patterns of being. They are also moments of transition in geologic time, in which one grand order passes leaving space for new forms to emerge. But this is beyond the grasp of everyday human consciousness.


So the invitation to write a love letter to the earth pulls me toward lament So I might write a love letter to Planet Earth celebrating the beauty of the snowdrops that are drifting white across the roadside verges; about the extraordinary beauty, almost clichéd, of the double rainbow over the City of Bath. But can I also offer love to these great disturbing transitions? My love letter must be accompanied by a lament for what is being lost.


In the end, all I was able to write for Valentine’s Day was, “Dear Earth, I couldn’t live without you!”