“I hold this letter in my hand,
A plea, a petition, a kind of prayer.
I hope it does as I have planned.”
Love Letter by Nick Cave
In the early noughties, the Whatonomy family (only four years minted) went down into a mine on the Welsh border.
We trod gravel through narrow pathways then debouched into a chamber uplit by a turquoise glow on the membrane of an underground pond.
Until that point, our only daughter (we are now blessed with two) had been chanting to herself “I’m not scared, I’m not scared…” as she regarded shadows that rotated around her small form and yet always seemed to point sharply at her little feet.
As we met the small turquoise lake, with its popping drips and eggy smell, she fell silent. The only time since that we have stood in such profound silence was when we went into the giraffe enclosure at Prague Zoo. We stood amidst these wholly alien and angelic life forms – to whom one can only look up – and we (now a family completed) were wordless.
I no longer believe that we stand apart and fallen from nature. I see no reason to marvel more at a pond or a giraffe than at a cooling tower or a piece of plastic as it is removed from a 3D printer. The ingredients of all things are natural and the only judgement we can make is whether what we have cooked from raw materials tastes sweet or sour.
As I tap this blog away at my phone, I can see our Christmas tree – made in China and composed of metal struts and thousands of small flecks of green plastic. It is decorated with plastic baubles, knitted stars, foiled-wrapped chocolates and is crowned with a plastic, gold-painted star.
It is a confusion to behold: a representation of a thing at several removes geographically, seasonally (here in the Southern Hemisphere) and symbolically from its origins. But it gives me pleasure and I sit here in a similar silence to which I regarded the slow puppetry of the giraffes and the plinking waters of the cave.
I watched my children be born and I could not believe how something so profound could occur without sentient determination; how cells could knit themselves into a being without every so often checking in with us to make sure they matched our specifications. The fabrication of a being seemed to stand apart from everything that is culture: we seemed to run alongside and not with our bodies and the physical world.
There are things in the world that we make with our hands, that we specify with our plans and that we imbue with shared significance.
There are things in the world that hum beneath our hearing and hover beyond our blinkered vision.
I bought my younger daughter a microscope this Christmas so that she might begin to see some of these things and build her own small bridge from the magical to the physical, with no less a sense of gratitude and wonder than that we felt amongst the slow and angular articulations of the giraffes.
We are not as separate from the things we regard as our sense of regarding simulates. And there is nothing, made of things, that is unnatural in this world.
“I’m not scared, I’m not scared,” we all say as we move through caves.