The cool refreshing air blew across the meadow bringing the fragrance of hay and the meadow flowers. The sky was full of thick clouds again, promising much but failing to deliver. ‘Anyone would think they are political’ and she smiled but not from humour and took a long, slow breath savouring the aroma as though it could be remembered forever. The function of inhaling stirred the irritation lurking in her lungs and prompted the deep, rattling coughing again. Deeper than you would expect from such slight framed woman. The effort brought on a spell of dizziness so she sat on the garden chair waiting, watching the birds she had just fed and watered. The Tits and Sparrows thanked her by their antics, sweeping down to the feeder like dive bombers, so comical and energetic.
‘Good morning my dears, I might not be able to feed you much longer. I’m a bit poorly’, she explained. ‘How come?’ they chirped. ‘Politics and greedy people mainly’, she sighed, still gasping from the coughing; they flew about looking perturbed, not understanding. It was too much for them to take in quickly; unwell, no more food, politics and greed; consequences didn’t come easy for them.
A babble of different questions, different emotions, coalescing into the simple ‘How come?’ repeated. ‘I don’t know much on specifics but generally, in bits it’s complicated and overall it’s simple.’
‘People are like a murmuration of Starlings my dears’. They understood that simile; huge, aggressive swarms that gather and exhaust all the gleanings of an area, vandalise and despoil it with their filth, spreading diseases, then moving on to the next roost, until some disease devastates their numbers reducing the pressure on resources for all the local bird populations.
‘People are a very successful species, like starlings, rats, cockroaches. Every individual doing what they need to survive’. The Sparrows nodded and chirped, they understood survival and pressures on local food resources. ‘Starlings have been less recently’ said the Sparrow.
‘What’s greed?’ asked the Tits. ‘The Wall Street Shuffle’ sung the Wood Pigeons. ‘Perfect timing’ she laughs. ‘Good question though. Most people everywhere can only get what they need, maybe not always enough, or maybe a little bit more than they need. Sometimes they can’t get anything at all.’ This distresses the birds; they remember hard winters when there wasn’t enough food, they were the lucky ones. They remember birds that died from starvation or cold, which boils down to the same thing really. ‘There are some people who hoard money like magpies hoard berries, except these people don’t need these ‘berries’. The magpies hoard the berries for winter and maybe won’t need them or even forget them. Greed is wanting more berries than you need. Berries rot in the ground but money can rot the owner. These people’s ‘berries’ are more for making them feel superior to other people.’
‘What’s superior?’ tweet the Sparrows inquisitively. The birds do not understand this concept at all. ‘Who flies the fastest? Who sings the sweetest? Who is the biggest?’ ‘You’re making my head hurt!’ chirp the Tits. ‘Exactly’ she says. ‘Do you mean who is the fastest Sparrow, or the fastest finches, or the fastest of all birds?’ he asks. ‘Yes, you’ve got it, the question is ridiculous. But some people want to have more so to make themselves seem bigger or better than other people, in their opinion.’ ‘Is this like Robins fluffing themselves up to look bigger when they are threatened?’ tweets the Blackbird. ‘Yes sometimes it is an over reaction to fear, an insecurity about not having enough for the future, but more often it is from the fear of not looking impressive enough’. ‘They must have very tiny egos then!’ chatters the Wren. This makes her smile, ‘You sound like an Owl in disguise’. The birds don’t understand this so they ignore it, sensible birds.
‘Do you mean that greedy people have made you poorly?’ asks the Wren. ‘Yes, the greedy people made a situation where other people exhausted an area like the starlings do, and in destroying the environment, they brought this disease back to the main population in the food that they caught and then sold for money, so lots of people got it. It’s like when Starlings exhaust an area and move to a new place taking their diseases with them. The disease that was brought back in the food that these people caught, it adapted and started to infect people and it has gone all around the world and now I have it.
‘We birds are frightened by the Raptors, or cats, or anything that attempts to kill us’ sang the Thrush. ‘Shotguns’ cooed the Wood Pigeons. ‘Fire’ added the Blackbird and all the birds flew up in fright, to prove it true. They returned quickly, each of them heckling the Blackbird for causing the commotion. ‘We understand this type of fear. What makes a person fearful about other people’s opinions of them? Opinions won’t eat you.’ chirp the Sparrows.
‘Hmm, that’s a harder, bigger question, lots of single things, depending on the person. It can be an embarrassment, or guilt, but at root it’s often when a person accepts a criticism from someone else. Criticism doesn’t have to be negative, but if it is accepted as a negative criticism then it can have harmful consequences.’ ‘It can make people greedy?’ ask the Tits. ‘Yes. Greed is often for the sake of owning the money but also for the benefits of using the money, to display wealth or status – whoever has the most berries or is the best bird.’ ‘We do not understand best bird. We are birds, we fly, we sing. Each to his nature.’ chatters the Wren; she really is a clever little bird.
‘Owning money conveys a status and importance on the person who owns it’ she sighs, ‘so being greedy for money gives a person who has a lot of it a position of superiority over other people who measure themselves in terms of money, and they probably want a lot of it too, to make themselves feel bigger and better.’ The birds swoop around the garden considering this. They squabble among themselves at the bird feeders or peck around the seeds dropped on the ground or swing on twigs of privet or bramble; there is plenty for all of them. They take turns on the feeders, like a conveyor belt, they play; there is no aggression between these garden birds.
‘Do greedy people want to be important?’ ask the Tits. ‘Some do’ she says. The Wood Pigeons coos ‘The Wall Street Shuffle’ repeatedly. ‘Yes them too, they financed big organisations for a share of the profits. Nothing gets done without money’, she thinks about the strikers wanting a fair days pay for a fair days vital services. That digression would overly complicate the underlying basic simplicity driving the destruction although it does demonstrate people needing a sufficient income to survive. ‘Some greedy wealthy people with an enormous amount of money try to keep what they have and get even more. This protective instinct gives them leverage over the greedy people who want to get some of it. This is where the politics intrude. In order to keep the source of their wealth available to them, they trade their political support to governments for concessions. Their political support involves handing some of their money to politicians and political parties as election funds and these politicians may also endorse practices to keep the money flowing to these greedy wealthy people, sometimes politicians benefit personally from doing this.’
‘How does giving money away get them more money?’ ask the Finches. ‘It buys them favours’ she explains. The politicians allow them to carry on through applying weak regulations and even encouragement to produce more to prop up their political and economic systems. Because the politicians allow them to do these things ordinary people think there is nothing wrong with how they are done and when the ordinary people start to be worried by what they see or when they start getting ill, the organisations and politicians tell them there is nothing wrong, nothing to worry about.’ ‘So ordinary people keep using or buying these things that are making them ill, even when they think there is something wrong, simply because organisations and politicians tell them it’s alright’ explains the Robin. ‘That’s pretty stupid’ said the sensible Wren.
‘The biggest problem is that too many of these political funders operate environmentally harmful organisations, like fossil fuels, big pharma and big agriculture. They are destroying the environment and driving the climate crisis’ she stops for a moment to smother another cough and the birds wait for her to continue. ‘So it is more that these greedy wealthy people are important in that they shape the economic situation – governments desperate to hold on to political power need their money to keep their positions and bend their knees to them. These greedy wealthy people drive ordinary people, through their organisations, to want things they don’t need and pushes a consumerist society to drive up their profits, which inflates their wealth and shareholder dividends trickle down to the pension funds and others who already have a great deal of money. All this wealth derives from the need of ordinary people to work and eat and stay well enough to keep working. But the wealth will never be allowed to trickle down to the ordinary people – they don’t ‘deserve it’. These greedy wealthy people have it nailed really.’
‘Ordinary people need to work for an income that will support them and their dependants, just like we forage food for our chicks’ explains the Wren. ‘In many cases, just striving for a source of income creates physical health hazards, the crops and processed foods we consume create more health hazards, either because of the way it’s been grown or made, or because ordinary people earn low wages and are unable to buy better quality food’. ‘Ah yes we all know to avoid some places because the seeds and insects taste wrong and make us feel ill’ nodded the Sparrow, ‘Sometimes places smell wrong’ added the Thrush. ‘And trying to stay well from the ill effects caused directly by these organisations is a huge vastly profitable business all by itself – make us ill, tell us it’s our fault and make us pay them to get better so we can keep doing the same sickening work and eating the same sickening food while they keep getting richer, and so it continues going round and round; they get richer, we get sicker.’
‘Why doesn’t anyone stop them?’ ask all the birds. ‘That is a very pertinent question’ she pauses, another coughing fit is smothered. She looks up at the clouds, still hanging in the sky, full of empty promises. The fresh breeze still carrying the fragrance of hay and meadow flowers and something new; she smells a hint of wood smoke. A thin plume of smoke is rising beyond the trees on the hill.
‘There are a lot of reasons why people allowed this happen, for a long time it was mainly that ordinary people believed what they were told despite what they could see or knew for themselves. They didn’t want it to be true, like reality was something they could choose to believe like fairies and Father Christmas. They could tell themselves that up was down and make themselves believe it’. This generated much laughter among the birds; you wouldn’t last long if you didn’t know up from down as a bird.
‘After that it became far too complicated to work out why ordinary people failed to stop it, some tried but the politicians had too much personal stuff invested in keeping the status quo and refused to address it properly, they didn’t want to solve the problem; there was a collective collusion of dereliction of duty for things to remain the same. The politicians introduced more restrictive legislations and regulations to make protesting about the situation harder for ordinary people to organise any effective protest groups to promote solutions. Then people realised that they wouldn’t be able to carry on supporting their dependents if they had to change everything so I think some people became resigned to the situation. They felt powerless to force the changes that needed to be introduced’ The birds were listening very solemnly now.
‘The greedy people made this happen and now the ordinary people have nothing they can do to make it right again?’ they asked. She nods. ‘I am ashamed. I am sorry’ she tells them. They are all silent.
The thin wisp of smoke is growing, darker.
‘And now, they have pushed the world to this disaster. And because some ordinary people went out and caught some wild food to provide an income for their dependents and that food carried a disease that has gone around the world my dears. The disease has already killed millions of ordinary people, we are in decline, like the Starlings. It may prove the kinder option for many ordinary people.’ she finished.
She wished she could save and protect all of them. She knew that to be futile. It was all so desperately saddening. A line from a song she’s seen written in a newspaper came to her; “At some point you’d have to live as if the truth was true”.
‘There is a fire beyond the hill’ she told them. ‘Be safe my dears, go now.’
People have grown so detached from the soil that they forget that people are also a part of the nature surrounding us. We are not separate. Nature is dying because of what has been done and by what is not being done to stop it. And we are dying too because nothing will stop the greedy people. They are killing the world and every life form that depends upon it. My only comfort is that the greedy wealthy people will almost certainly live the longest and watch in horrified fascination as the cockroaches eat all the dead their greed has slaughtered before the cockroaches turn their attentions on consuming them. I almost feel sorry for the cockroaches because the greedy people will probably be far too toxic, even for cockroaches.