10 — A lovely day in the Valley
“What was and what may be lie, like children whose faces we cannot see, in the arms of silence. All we ever have is here, now”.*
Ursula LeGuin was a prophet. She might not have ever described herself as such — she was a singularly grounded and humble person — but the themes in her books were prescient and foresaw many of the themes and tensions we face right now and will face into the future.
I’ve used her words and ideas many times to orient myself. And when needing to find places to go when thinking about what kind of future we all might face, I have returned to them. Now, as we sit on the edge of a world in which we genuinely have no idea how things will turn out, her fiction and non-fiction can guide us.
In her mind, imagination is a subversive act — in the worlds created in her fiction and in the real world too. She didn’t live to see COVID-19, but I doubt she’d have been surprised by it. She was quietly bemused and radical in her approaches to the excesses of capitalism and the damage it has wrought on our human lives and ecological systems— and equally frustrated, I think, by the lack of imagination in the sphere of economic, ecological and political change.
In one of her final books — ‘No Time to Spare’ — a gentle paeon to ageing and simplicity, she offers these three questions: “Why are things as they are? Must they be as they are? What might they be like if they were otherwise”. And she goes on, “To ask these questions is to admit the contingency of reality, or at least to allow that our perception of reality may be incomplete, our interpretation of it arbitrary or mistaken”.
I feel some hope when I read these words, and (those who know her work may understand this reference) today is a lovely day in the Valley…
It is a lovely day in the valley;
We watch over it from this high place.
We found it by following a trail;
a buzzard soaring brought us here.
A river runs to the sea — small water —
perhaps no greater than a brook,
yet herons are here; one bursts into
the sky, disturbed by our coming.
There is a haze over the distant hills;
morning brings a transfiguration
as we ask the question she asked:
Why are things as they are?