Tag Archives: Memories

Restoring Iraq’s marshes restores a way of life

It’s not often you see a good story come out of Iraq. Especially one focused on restoring an ecosystem and a way of life.  But on the heels of a particularly bloody month in Iraq, the BBC is reporting just such a story.

It is the story of the restoration of the marshlands of the Tigris-Euphrates. Some believe that these very marshlands were the inspiration for the Garden of Eden in both the Bible and Koran. Perhaps also the site of the biblical flood. Although they are in distant country better know for conflict, there loss would be a loss for all of us. 

Ma'dan village comprised of traditional mudhif reed houses and community structures made by the Ma'dan people (also known as Marsh Arabs) in the swamps of southern Iraq

I have only been to Baghdad once — about a month before the start of the first Gulf War in 1991. I had been stuck in Kuwait for months — forced into hiding with my father. Finally I was on my long way back to England.  No doubt I had other things on my mind at the time as I flew over the marshes of the Tigris-Euphrates. At that time while the marshes had seen been disrupted due to irrigation projects, they were still the home to a number of Marsh Arab tribes opposed to the Baathist regime.

That soon changed. Following a failed uprising after the first Gulf War, the regime started a systematic campaign to drain the marshes to eliminate the tribes food supply and places of refuge. Marsh draining is common-place around the world — often in order that “unproductive” marsh land can be brought into use as rich cropland. But this was different. This was designed to break a way of life that had gone on for millennia.  The regime almost succeeded in destroying the marshes and wiping these people out. The population of marsh arabs dropped from 500,000 in the 1950s to fewer than 20,000. But now as part of the post-war recovery effort, the marshes are being flooded and a way of life is slowly starting to come back.

It’s gratifying to read these positive stories. It is also a good reminder that restoring the Earth and its natural systems restores our connection to our past. In this case, just perhaps back to the mythical Garden of Eden.

Marsh Arab


photos: James Gordon; Salim Virji. sourced from Flickr.



Remembering Thatcher’s Britain

From 1979 to 1990 Margaret Thatcher sat in 10 Downing Street, leading Britain at home and abroad. For most of this time, I was going to school in a small town in Sussex, south east England, watching as her governments set about remaking Britain. Sussex was about as Tory and pro-Thatcher as you could get, although our home was a Labour outpost where the Guardian was usurped for the Telegraph only when grandparents arrived.

What do I remember of this place and time? For me the overwhelming memory of her Government is of conflict. From images of the fleet sailing to the South Atlantic to recapture a colonial outpost I had never heard of, to protesters at Greenham Common chanting against Britain becoming an American missile base, to police on horseback charging down the miners, to students rioting in Trafalgar square over the imposition of the “poll tax.” These were the images that came to our home each night on the tiny television screen — it all seemed far removed from the seclusion of a small Sussex village.


But even there, the policies started to bite. It seems like our teachers were always either on strike or working to rule — no after school sports, no teacher evenings, and a constant grumble in the hallways.

I was the last class who went up to University with full tuition and a student grant — imagine that. Truly free education. By the time I had left, the student loan had come in — ironically more than one student took out a loan to buy shares from public companies that the Tories had privatized — not sure it was meant to work that way. Now you’re looking at £9,000 a year in top-up fees alone!

She was variously the milk snatcher, the witch, the iron lady, a wicked caricature on Spitting Image, and latterly a knighted Lady. Think what you may of her policies, you have to admire her (perhaps grudgingly) for the strength of her convictions. It’s also clear after 20 years and with 5,000 miles distance that the policies she started and in many ways the Labour Government continued, remade Britain — when I go back now its certainly a more affluent country so perhaps it was for the better after all. But the path taken during those 11 years was one of conflict and violence. It’s not a path I would want to go down again.

Heralding Summer’s End among the Redwoods

Spot the bear!

Albee Creek campground in Humboldt Redwoods State Park was full over the Labor Day weekend. Clustered around each fire ring were happy faces enjoying the end of summer and start of fall.  Each year for the past four years, I’ve camped at the same spot with family and friends: On the edge of the meadow overlooking the spires of Rockefeller Forest.

It’s nice to return to a familiar spot to see what’s changed, and what has remained the same. This year the blackberries were late and the bushes dotted with bitter red fruits rather than laden with juicy black orbs (fortunately we brought our last pot of jam from last year!). Replacing the berries was a bumper crop of apples and one very black bear who ambled through the trees gorging himself. There’s nothing quite like the sight of a full-grown bear perched at the top of a spindly apple tree reaching for one last fruit to draw and hold a crowd of campers!

Swimming beneath the redwoods at the Garden Club of America Grove

Swimming beneath the redwoods at the Garden Club of America Grove

The redwoods were unchanged and timeless as they always are. It was great to see each trailhead with a cluster of cars—more than I recall seeing before.  And yet the park’s groves are so vast that you can still find solitude and peace among the towering giants.  Deep in Rockefeller Forest the only sound was the distant splash of Bull Creek, an occasional bird call, and the gentle creaking of the trees as their tops swayed and rubbed together. It’s as if they were talking to all who came to visit for the weekend.

At Richardson Grove State Park on the drive south, I spotted a bald eagle flying low over the South Fork Eel River. It was truly a magnificent sight. It was also a trip of firsts for me: taking our new month-old son camping for the first time and sleeping out with my five-year-old son for the first time. He’s a seasoned camper but had never slept out under the stars. Wisely he didn’t believe me that the bear came and licked his nose at night. We lay on the mattress listening to the dawn chorus break over the redwoods. That’s the best way to start the day and say farewell to summer.

[first published, “Giant Thoughts,” Save the Redwoods League, September 5, 2012.]