Virtually walking from the Iron Age hill fort, Barbury Castle to the Bronze Age circle at Avebury via Google Maps and Zoom with my friend Richard earlier today, we happened across the topic of the long-view. He told me how, on the Coast to Coast Path, at the end of the first day of walking in Cumbria, one arrives upon a ridge and the Lake District is spread out ahead: a gorgeous view formed by the Ice Age, with its tarns and scree-scrambled sloping hills. This is truly the long-view – formed over millennia and well worth the wait. But there is foresight on a more human scale. How far thinking does one have to be to commission the building of a cathedral, or a temple or a mosque that will not be completed until long after one’s death? Equally, how long did it take for the ancient settlers of Wiltshire to dig the deep and perfect ditches of Barbury Castle and Avebury, using only deer antlers and other primitive tools? I’d take a guess that it was hundreds of full-moons and scores of solstices – far beyond the life-span of an average labourer or chieftain of the time.
Richard told me he had recently been part of a group planting oak, cherry and hazel on a piece land in Sussex, belonging to a friend who wanted to give something back to the future: creating a carbon sink in an era of climate crisis. He mentioned that Michael Heseltine has long been a great tree planter, and after our call/walk I found an on-line article dated 2015 that tells how Heseltine planted the first tree of a new National Forest at the end of the last century. There is a point to longevity – especially if like Michael Heseltine you can see your saplings grow to maturity – but in any case – simply for the joy of living – something the current crisis has made especially piquant.
On that topic – the COVID pandemic has brought forth a shower of data – some of it along the lines of who would or could or might, in any event, have died over the past few months. Seems like the mortality curve has, during the crisis, almost exactly followed the path that it followed this time last year: age, underlying health, ethnicity, where you live and how much you do or don’t earn – all of these factors seem to have remained constant in the likelihood of dying now rather than later (listen to Tim Hartford’s ‘More or Less’ for more on this topic) But this is not the point. The point is, that if you follow the government advice on staying home during this pandemic, that dot on that graph or that cluster of dots doesn’t have to include YOU or I, although that’s not to say it won’t – there simply are no guarantees on that score. However, if we want to extrapolate out to the long-view the principle of individual action (being rightly impressed on us by government during this moment) we could, after this is all over, start by taking direct responsibility for our own future and that of our children and, following Michael Heseltine’s or Richard’s example, help plant some trees over the course of a weekend, leaving behind our own monument to the future.