The devastating news about the number of breeding curlews in Ireland has been difficult to take. 120 pairs left in the whole of the country. This year there is only one pair breeding in County Sligo, a rugged county of 2000 sq km of mountains, bogs and wet meadows. It should be curlew heaven. There maybe two pairs in the adjacent Country Roscommon. Ireland is a country that used to have many thousands of breeding birds. And it is not just curlews that are slipping over the edge into oblivion. Corncrakes have already gone apart from some remote outposts in the west. Lapwings are in freefall. There is a decline in birds throughout Europe, but Ireland seems to fare the worst. We are watching the extinction of a beautiful, elegant bird for no other reason than a western lifestyle that is all about consumption. Our desire for lots of cheap everything is satieated by economic and farming systems based on bigger, better, faster all the ime.
So here we go again - the system is screwed so what can we do? Well, we can try to do the right thing for ourselves.
It seems to me that there are four relationships we must have in balance to live full, healthy, flourishing lives, and to allow other life on earth to thrive alongside us. They are (1) our relationship with ourselves, (2) with God (whatever that term means to you), (3) with each other and (4) with the earth. As individuals, it seems to me that we are like the circle of a Celtic cross. The circle repersents the essence of who we are, and it is kept in shape by four arms pulling with equal tension - the four relationships
No one relationship should be allowed to distort the roundness - if one relationship becomes dominant then the circle will go out of shape and become contorted. Keeping these four relationships in balance is essential. If they are not balanced we see religious extremism as the relationship with God becomes all consuming. We wage war/fight/hurt when the relationship with each other is weak. We become greedy or self harming when we neglect ourselves. And the earth - what about that forgotten, neglected relationship with the earth? The one relationship that is so often taken for granted? Well, ecosystems are damaged, biodiversity thinned, animals treated with cruelty and other forms of life are viewed as merely a means to an end, namely food or products.
Four relationships - four essential bonds that keep the world and ourlseves in harmony. Easy to preach isn't it - hard to do when families need feeding, money if tight, we need to get around and we want a high standard of life with a rich diversity of food and abundant energy. Keeping the realtionship with the earth in balance is as hard, if not harder, as maintaining the balance of the others.
The problem is all of them require sacrifice - a word that is so neglected today when we are told we can have it all - as long as we can pay for it, or borrow the money. If the world's religions have one huge job to do it is to remind us that life involves self-sacrifice. All of them have times of abstinence built into their teachings, often on a yearly cycle. These are times when we are asked to be restrained and to contemplate. These times of less are then interspersed with festivals and times of abundance. Somehow that seems a balanced and healthy approach.
I don't want Christmas to start in September or Easter in January. I don't want organic mangoes all year round. I don't want cheap meat at the cost of suffering for millions of animals.
And what about curlews? They are disappearing as land is converted into intensive agriculture to provide cheap food, and 50% of it is thrown away.
So curlews are the collateral damage of a society that has become distorted. We don't leave them, and so many other creatures, room to live and just be. All of the land is for us and our "needs" though it is hard to believe that this is the only way for humanity to survive.
I leave with the wisest of farmers - Wendell Berry -
The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.