Nature's Consolation

By Chisholm, Kate | The Spectator, February 14, 2009 | Go to article overview

Nature's Consolation


Chisholm, Kate, The Spectator


Stuck in a traffic jam on an icy road I caught most of Midweek (Radio Four, Wednesdays), and was forced by the complete standstill and the sense of white stillness beyond the car window to really listen to what was being said. Libby Purves's guests included David Attenborough, who will shortly be donning the mantle of Alistair Cooke to take on the Friday-evening monologue. He'll not be reporting on the state of America, but rather on the condition of the natural world, and judging from his conversation with Libby Purves it will be vintage radio. She was impelled to ask him, after looking back on the archive footage of his programmes for TV, 'Does wildlife make you happy?' To which Attenborough replied, 'Yes . . . ummm . . . I think so, ' pausing for a moment to give himself time to think through the real meaning of the question.

'Happy is not quite the right word. But then I don't know what the right word is.' Attenborough recalled a moment in the Australian outback, sitting beside a billabong at dawn and watching the egrets, ducks, crocodiles all busy going about their business and yet knowing that he had absolutely no part in this natural world. 'There's an extraordinary feeling of contentment, ' he concluded. To which Purves, still seeking an answer to her original question, replied, 'Yes. There's a kind of consolation in that, isn't there?' 'Consolation, ' repeated Attenborough.

'That's the word I want. There's a consolation in times of personal trouble. A huge consolation.' Attenborough has probably spent more hours watching wildlife than any of us; Purves knows and loves radio. Between them they conjured up one of those rare moments on air when you feel as though you're eavesdropping on a truly meaningful conversation, rather than being fed a diet of overheated chit-chat or green-room gossip.

On the World Service this week (Monday) Lucy Ash reported on a radically different approach to prison sentencing being pioneered in Norway. A group of 115 specially selected prisoners who have all committed really serious crimes have been brought together on a small island in the middle of Oslo fiord to live and work in an eco-prison, eating only what they can grow (and catch).

The philosophy behind this rehabilitation programme is that if you can learn how to respect nature, it will help you to respect yourself.

Fresh Start took us round the world looking at innovative ways in which, instead of being locked away, prisoners are brought into contact with the natural world. …

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