Thursday, October 23, 2008

Reaping nature’s windfall

Nature, they say, abhors a vacuum, which to me seems a strange thing to get het up about. Labels that stick into the back of your neck, umbrellas that turn inside out when you look at them sideways, the hit record “Dancing on the ceiling” – these are all subjects that I could wax vehement on for hours. Vacuums, I have no particularly strong feelings about either way, which shows that, in this regard at least, I am not really “at one” with nature.
Where my thinking does coincide with that of nature is in our joint abhorrence of waste. At least I assume that nature abhors waste, though I’ve never actually heard her mentioning this fact personally. Bushes grow berries, bird eat berries and spit out the seeds in disgust, young birds grow, new berry bushes grow – it is all what Elton John was rabbiting on about in “The Circle of Life.” Nothing in nature, it seems, should be wasted.
I got to considering this fact the other week whilst striding down to Dunnes in Ongar to see if they had any Werther’s Originals, for which I have developed a sudden and unaccounted for craving, despite the sudden onset of the recession. I found myself pondering the now nearly-naked young trees that lined the Littlepace Distributor Road and the vast array of brown and yellow leaves that adorned the pathway.
Leaves. Millions of them. If I were Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man” I would have counted them but I’m not, so I didn’t. Just lying there on the road, the path and the black strip that we assume is the cycle path. Never mind what becomes of the broken-hearted – what becomes of all the leaves that nature annually discards at this time of year? Where do they all go to? They don’t gradually decompose and enrich the tarmac, that’s for sure.
I assume of course that in the great circle of life in years gone by, this latter scenario would indeed be the case, when the leaves would rot into the soil, forming compost and so on. But nowadays, it just seems such a waste for these leaves to fall on stony ground, like in the parable. Nature doesn’t seem to be adapting very quickly to the new blanket of tarmac that has smothered our landscape.
When you come to think of it, though, discarded leaves have very few uses apart from the aforementioned composting, which is disappointing, because a leaf is a thing of beauty in itself. When you hold it up to the light and view the veins and the colours and the shapes, it is a work of art that cannot be reproduced by the hand of man – it is natural art, like the Giants Causeway or bobbly sheep’s droppings in Connemara.
The only good thing you can do with leaves is to shuffle through them, when they have drifted up against a wall, or maybe kick them in great quantities around the street. The problem with this is that there is not much money in it. My Uncle Balthazar did this for a living for five years before his wife left him.
As a young man in a bedsit in Ranelagh, I gave 99% of my wages to my landlord and Arthur Guinness and had very little left for luxuries like food. One day I did indeed try to make a homemade soup out of leaves that I picked up in the street. Let us say it was not a complete success and I was obliged to stay within sprinting distance of the toilet for a week afterwards.
Similarly, though striking examples of natural beauty, the leaves do not make good wallpaper. I tried it once on the wall of the kitchen when my wife was away at her sister’s and though it initially looked very striking, as the leaves dried and became wrinkled, the effect deteriorated. In the end, it just looked like a load of leaves stuck on a wall. And be warned, its murder trying to match up the pattern.
I have tried to think up a way of gainfully using all these leaves but the only thing that I can think of is that we should abandon the Euro and adopt the Leaf as our unit of currency. I realise that my grasp of how world currencies work rivals that of Idi Amin (“The country’s broke? Then we’ll print more money”) but there would be enormous benefits if we were to follow the Green Pound through to its natural conclusion.
Firstly, it would encourage people to plant more trees, which would help to counterbalance the effect of all those greenhouses that are heating up the sun. If you are literally being paid to go green, then that can only be beneficial to the health of the world. More trees equals more carbon dioxide equals more ozone layer or something like that, so we could save the world and get rich doing it. Of course, we would need to enlighten the populace on the difference between deciduous and evergreen and which of them would provide a regular source of income.
Secondly it would get rid of banks and their constant ripping us off. There would be no need to keep our leaves in financial institutions as there would be more than enough to go around for everyone. Just go out into the street if you’re getting a bit short. It would also be a fallacy for parents to admonish their profligate offspring with the words, “Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know.”
Of course, we would have to tighten up our customs and excise operation to stop people smuggling large quantities of leaves into the country and devaluing our currency. We could employ sniffer giraffes at docks and airports, though naturally you’d have to slip them the occasional five leaf note to keep them happy.
Back gardens in our leafy suburbs would become veritable jungles of shrubs and small trees as we all wait for the autumnal windfall. Farmers would employ Securicor to collect their harvest, though doubtless they would still demand subsidies from the government for doing so. Medical costs would plummet as whole families would get fit by going on long forest walks with big sacks.
But of course, all this will probably only happen in a post-apocalyptic society when the few survivors emerge from bomb shelters and gaze around at the devastation outside. It will be like the dove returning to the ark with a leaf in its mouth or maybe the coast of Greenland being discovered by Leaf Eriksson.
Come on, Brian! You know it makes sense.

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