‘Authentic success is the casting-off of the chains of conspicuous consumption. It is the rejection of the idea that buying more “stuff” makes us happy. Authentic success lies in the rediscovery of ourselves as individuals. It is a path of questioning the cultural assumptions we’ve accepted as truth for so long. It is the rediscovery of ourselves, the discovery that we are all unique individuals.’
Olivia turned the page of the book – her book – and studied the eager faces in the audience. She’d never expected her book to sell in the millions. It was a lot for a Pompey girl from Somerstown to take in. And she’d never expected to be standing here on the stage of the Portsmouth Guildhall either, looking down on all these people.
‘Reconnecting with the soul of the Earth speaks to the souls in our bodies. Authentic success is, quite simply, becoming the real, unique, one-of-a-kind you.’
Olivia finished the reading, stepped down from the stage, and made her way over to the book signing table. The next hour was taken up with scribing her name on books. She took great satisfaction from knowing that her words were changing the world.
As she handed over the last signed book a familiar figure rushed towards her. ‘Aunt Olivia! Your talk was fabulous! I love your book. I’m going to study wildlife ecology at university.’
Olivia smiled, and gave her niece a big hug. ‘It’s good to see you again, Megan. I don’t get back to Portsmouth very often these days.’
‘I know! I’ve been reading your blog. You’ve been working in Kenya with cheetahs. I love big cats!’
‘Well, I’m going to be home for a little while now. I’m advising on how to increase biodiversity in the city. You’ve made a great start by turning Southsea Common over to a wildflower meadow, but now the Council wants to see what else it can do. They want to establish wildlife corridors throughout the city.’
‘I coulda told ’em they needed to do that,’ Megan said. ‘But where will they put ’em? City’s so built up.’
Olivia nodded. ‘That’s the challenge, isn’t it. You can help. The Council’s going to be asking for residents’ ideas soon.’
‘Oh, good! A proper consultation. I…’ Megan’s mobile rang, and she pulled it out of her pocket and scowled at the screen. ‘It’s Mum. She wants to know where I am. I didn’t tell her I was coming to your talk. I know you don’t get on.’
Olivia grimaced. That was an understatement. The last time she’d seen Alison they’d had an all-out row. It was the plastic bag which had done it. Alison was using a new one she’d ordered specially from China. Olivia had laid into her about the horrors of plastic, and lectured Alison about unnecessary transport miles. She’d yelled about how the bag would break down into microplastics and end up in the ocean, killing marine species.
Portsmouth had been plastic-free for five years now. But Alison was one of those people who refused to change, who didn’t care how much wildlife she poisoned or killed. Not surprisingly, they hadn’t spoken since that exchange.
Olivia’s attention was jerked back to Megan’s ‘phone call. ‘I’m fine, Mum,’ she said. ‘I’ve been out with a friend. We went to an event at the Central Library. It’s just finished, so I’m gonna be home soon.’
Olivia said nothing about the deception. Megan had learned years ago that she never won fights with her mother. Olivia gave her niece another big hug and said, ‘You’d better go now you’ve told your Mum you’re on your way home.’
The light vanished from Megan’s eyes, and she nodded. Then the smile was back. ‘I’m eighteen in two months’ time, and as soon as I am I’m moving out. I’ve got my university place, and my place in halls already.’
Olivia reached into her bag and brought out a book she’d been about to start reading – The Green Gift of Urban Spaces. ‘I haven’t started this. You have it, as an early birthday present,’ she said.
‘Can I? Oh, thank you, aunt!’ Megan hugged the book to her chest, then hugged Olivia again. ‘I’d better go,’ she said. ‘Been a great evening. Maybe we’ll work together on some projects when I’m qualified.’
Olivia smiled at her niece. ‘I hope so. That would be brill.’
She watched Megan bustle off, book clutched tightly to her chest like a precious gift, and happiness flooded her body. All across the world young people came up to her at events like this, full of passion for saving the planet. She had a good feeling about the future.
As Olivia put her coat on and left the hall, she wondered what ideas Megan would come up with for wildlife corridors. Knowing her niece, they’d be creative.
The future was in very good hands.
Inspiration: I feel that respect for the natural world is tied up with spiritual development, and I wanted to write about a person involved in rewilding the urban environment, but also addressing the spiritual aspects of connecting with the natural world.
Pens of the Earth is about environmental tales from a positive Portsmouth – encouraging writers to celebrate existing environmental initiatives, and to imagine what might be.
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