(A version of this was first published in Le News 31 July 2014)
‘Nasty, brutish and short’, my husband observed the other day, as we sat on the patio in the rain, having sundowners.
‘That’s a bit harsh,’ I said, watching the children smear yoghurt all over the newly washed windows. ‘Brutish, yes, undeniably. And of course they’re short. They’re still young. But nasty? I don’t know … some days they can be quite sweet.’
He gave me a look. ‘I was quoting Thomas Hobbes. And he was describing the life of human beings in their natural state, outside of an organised society.’
My ears glazed over at that point, but it did get me thinking: about organised societies; about the natural state of things; and about who it was that threw down a poo gauntlet in the driveway.
But let me start at the beginning. When we first arrived here, we were immediately struck by the loveliness of the Swiss countryside, with its fields of buttercups, happy cows and complete absence of hand-sized spiders.
‘Isn’t Nature lovely here,’ we rhapsodised. And it was lovely for a while. But soon, things started to happen. Strange things. Things that suggested that perhaps Nature was not as enamoured of us as we were of it.
First, our neighbour’s car was sabotaged by a weasel, which chewed through her brake cable and caused her to almost drive into a fence post. Then – and I cannot help but feel these incidents are connected – some small, nocturnal animal … how shall I put it? … defecated on the head of a Playmobil ballerina that the children had left in the driveway. Right on its head. It’s hard not to read that as an insult of some sort: the culprit walked right past the toy elephant, right past the pile of dinosaurs that always litters our front step, and crapped on the head of the only human-looking toy out there.
And then I started noticing odd little things: the way birds stopped chattering as we passed under their trees in the forest; the filthy look a goat once gave me, when I walked through its field.
Call me paranoid but by the time a slug insinuated itself into my shoe, I’d come to see these things as acts of aggression.
‘Nature, red in tooth and claw*,’ I quoted, extremely grateful that slugs have neither. ‘I think it’s revolting.’
‘Yes,’ my children agreed. ‘Yuck.’
But I didn’t mean that kind of of revolting. I meant, Nature appears to be rising up in some sort of protest. Against us. And honestly, who can blame it?
Yesterday the children found me sitting slumped in front of the computer with a stupefied expression – not an unusual look, for me, I’m sorry to say, but I must have appeared particularly zoned because they remarked on it.
‘What are you doing?’ they asked.
‘Reading the news.’
‘Why is your face so sad?’
‘Because there are so many people in the world who are revolting.’
‘Like the slugs.’
But I didn’t mean that kind of revolting. Not like the slugs and weasels and whatever unburdened itself in the driveway. I meant ‘revolting’ in a uniquely human way: nasty, and brutish and very, very shortsighted.
*’Nature, red in tooth and claw …’ from ‘In Memoriam A.H.H.’, by Alfred Tennyson.