I was walking my son’s dogs today. I am not a dog lover, but I like a walk, and he is working all day. I strolled, in sunshine, along the defunct railway track outside Truro, listening to woodpeckers calling and rat-tat-tatting, and admiring the first of the bluebells, while the two dogs did what dogs do, seeking out badger droppings to roll in and so on.
The walk is about twenty minutes out and twenty-five back (on slightly weary legs). The peace is welcome and the occasional bit of wildlife lifts the spirit; and I recall the rural environment of my youth. At that time I used to cycle along a farm track to the village, and as likely as not startle a covey of partridges, a wheatear or a yellow hammer, and I would usually hear a sky lark. The estuary bank would be lively with numerous waders, shelduck and little terns (which I believe are quite rare now). I am well acquainted with the propensity of the old to reminisce and am aware how easy it is to bore the listener, so I try to give nostalgia a miss – but I got to wondering what the next generation of pensioners would look back on with fond memory.
There is a point on the walk when the track crosses a bridge over the main Truro Falmouth road, and the noise of the traffic permeates the air from some distance off. The road is busy with commerce and commuters, often with a tailback from the junction. Even twenty years ago there was not a quarter of the traffic there is now, and although I can’t resist the temptation to lean on the parapet to watch (and smell) the flow, I still feel irritation at the crude intrusion into the quiet day.
But perhaps in 30 years time, a walker like me will be thinking back to these times, with a nostalgic tug, remembering the busy roar of diesel traffic, and wondering where it all went! When the oil industry is effectively dead, when most of the traffic is electric, and when long-distance road traffic is as rare as the little tern, and people no longer commute because they work from home by phone and internet, will this walker regret the passing of all this way of life, as I do the tranquillity of my youth? And will he welcome back the butterflies and the bees which are struggling to survive? Will he curse as a newly invigorated dawn chorus wakes him, when our wild birds find habitats returning under the new environmentally appropriate farming methods?
Or will he simply curse the destruction wrought by the generations before his?