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Angel of Destruction


I am the personification of your ignorance. The devil incarnate.

Greed, stupidity and hatred are normally invisible forces. Always somewhere else. Now I have made them solidify out of the thin air. Here they are, Gothic, in this Tower, in this body, in this now.

You need not fight me. Continue as you are and I will go about my work. You are free to do nothing. Suits me.

The feeble staff of this Grand University Museum can do nothing against the massed power I represent. Decay, destruction, degradation, extinction will continue until everything has disappeared from under your nose.

If you have a nose left, that is. It’s highly unlikely that your nose will be the last to go.

Empty threats? Let’s take today’s exhibit: the seed of the Black Poplar, Populus nigra ssp. betulifolia.

Why are there only a few thousand of them left in the whole of Britain? And most of these genetically identical, so they are extremely vulnerable to any chance trauma?  Most of us will only ever have seen one in John Constable’s painting The Hay Wain. Why are they now on the way to extinction? Because we didn’t like the mess the females made in our streets? In America Poplars are called Cottonwood trees because of these distinctive seeds. We got rid of those messy females, and now the boys stand alone and our streets are pure.

Our streets? Who was here first? The streets, or the Poplars? And for which city of creatures is the Poplar itself the High Street?

But those are awkward questions. Speaking as a human, I like my streets free of everything else so I can go fast to my next important appointment.

Did we even know that there was a male and a female Poplar tree? Did we guess at the delicate mating ritual it has, in which the two sexes must stand close together without hybrid onlookers, and their fertilized seed must fall just so, on a bare patch of soil, free of competitors, with just the right wetness, at just the right time of year?

But perhaps there is no room for such a delicate flower in a rough and tough world. Survival of the fittest and all that. Humans have made it to the top by being the best, not by stopping for stragglers. We don’t have time to look after every filthy little runt of nature.

In destroying this seed I am merely personifying our society’s customary attitude. No one seems to have a problem with it as long as it’s invisible.

So, unless anyone has a different plan, let’s say goodbye to the Black Poplars. It’s been nice knowing you.

Anyway, we still have the Hay Wain.

(hmm…wonder which museum that’s in…)

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Bodger permalink
    03/07/2009 12:05 pm

    So, we’re all to blame for our ignorance?

    Interesting thought, but given that we’ll never manage to know everything about the world in one lifetime, where do we draw the line between necessary and unnecessary knowledge?

    Is knowledge of the Black Poplar’s procreation necessary knowledge? What do you think, Mr Hermit, up alone in your tower all alone?

  2. roger461 permalink
    03/07/2009 3:14 pm

    Its simply not adequate to hide behind “we’ll never manage to know everything about the world in one lifetime”. We are sometimes tempted to use this as a justification for just giving up about learning, but if we do, then we don’t stay the same, we shrink, and know less and less. For me there ought to be a place for Black Poplars, maybe not in the high street, perhaps somewhere safer, away from mainstrem human neglect.

    Like your style Hermit, keep on challenging us!

  3. Bodger permalink
    03/07/2009 7:56 pm

    I really can’t agree, Roger. There’s a big difference between saying “I can’t know everything, but I will attempt to learn what I can in many different asreas, perhaps becoming and expert in one or two.” and “I can’t know anything, so I won’t bother learning anything.”
    And, of course, there’s a spectrum in between.
    Don’t automatically assume the lowest common denominator of people, but equally don’t (as Mr Hermit appears to be doing) blame people when they just can’t possibly know everything. After all, it’s unlikely that much of a proportion of, say, Manchester’s population have any reason to know much (or anything) about Black Poplars.
    Perhaps educating us, rather than berating us, would be a better use of the Hermit’s skills and time.

  4. 03/07/2009 8:59 pm

    Sharing knowledge is not just as simple as passing on facts. It’s akin to lighting a fire – if it is fed it will continue to grow. Not everyone wants to listen. How many of the population of Manchester, or the rest of the developed world for that matter, want to know about the breeding cycles of poplar trees?

    Maybe as responsible adults we need to be asking what do I teach my kids and who makes the decisions to not plant female Black Poplar trees?

  5. Cosi (happy to have learnt something new) permalink
    03/07/2009 9:59 pm

    well, i never knew about the delicacies of the poplar’s mating ritual. and no, it’s not crucial information to my survival, in fact i might consider it an addition to the repository of useless information that is my brain…and be happy to have learnt something new. it put a smile on my face. maybe learning for the sake of learning is lovely 🙂

  6. 03/07/2009 11:54 pm

    Black Poplar, Populus Nigra, sometimes called the ‘Manchester Poplar’ (hooweyyy !) can grow to 100ft. It’s wood is particularly well suited for matches because it’s open texture makes it easy to impregnate with paraffin wax, and it is not liable to break or splinter when a match is struck. In Holland however, the solid wood is used to make clogs.
    I prefer my trees standing personally.
    The Lombardy Poplar (Populus Nigra ‘Italica’) is well known to travellers in the countryside: frequently planted both sides of a country road, it is an unforgettable sight. Because of it’s narrow shape, the Lombardy Poplar lends grandeur to a scene without taking too much ground space. It grows near vertical branches towards the sky and resembles the long flame of a candle perched on a trunk. Perhaps that’s where the idea of matches came from …

    I vote we don’t say good bye to such great natural living beeings. Trees need nothing from us yet they give us the air we breathe, their energy is inside everyone of us feeding us everyday and the only reason we’re not aware of it is because we cannot see it with our own eyes.

  7. 04/07/2009 10:31 am

    There is ignorance, Bodger. It is not question of blame. Just a simple matter of consequences.
    All our actions are based on our present understanding. That understanding is always partial.
    And so our actions are not perfect. We make mistakes.
    And we suffer the consequences of those mistakes.

    Now, how to relieve ourselves of this suffering?
    Two solutions are possible:
    1. get more knowledge
    2. Stop acting foolishly

    Fortunately, it is quite possible to do both at the same time.
    As soon as we stop acting on things – to fix, improve, engineer, meddle, test, beautify, pick your verb – as soon as we stop, then the nature of that thing starts to unfold before us.
    It’s as simple as that.

    Of course stopping is not easy. Action is hardwired into us as an evolutionary imperative. We feed our desires and recoil from pains because that is our nature. But nature selects blindly for survival, not wisdom.

    Is it possible for us to stop in the face of every natural impulse, and simply examine our nature?

    I am very happy to see Martin Prothero here, who I consider an expert in the matter of stopping. He has produced exquisite images of animal movements – new knowledge – as an outcome of his practice of just sitting with nature. To counteract my possible misrepresentation of him, however, I urge you to check out his work on his own terms at

  8. Bodger permalink
    04/07/2009 12:52 pm

    “Is it possible for us to stop in the face of every natural impulse, and simply examine our nature?”

    Probably not. We don’t have the luxury you have of being paid for to stop like this. I can’t imagine my employer being terribly keen on the idea.

    And does stopping and thinking automatically lead to a change in attitude?

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