Dave Walsh writes about letting sport teach us about campaigning, via the tenacious, flexible and fun Slipstream Sports cycling team.
Yesterday, I read a small blog by adventurer Alastair Humphreys, where he published a list of the qualities needed to succeed. The list includes, hard work, perseverance, determination, ruthlessness and more. I would add one more: creativity. Humphreys writes:
“…sport matters so much to me. Because it doesn’t matter very much at all, yet its foundations are built upon things that matter very much indeed.”
Off the coast of southeast Ireland lie the two small Saltee Islands. Their simple, low-slung landscapes, four or five kilometres of the Wexford fishing village of Kilmore Quay belie their layers of history, folklore and bizarre stories. On approach, there are few warnings of the extent of the islands’ abundant wildlife, but more than 220 species of birds live, nest, or migrate through the Saltees, including gannets, fulmars, kittiwakes, puffins, shearwaters, razorbills and guillemots, all completely unfussed by human visitors. Curious grey seals eat fish scraps from the hands of fishermen, and stalk daytrippers who walk the cliffs – their big doe eyes staring up plaintively from the azure waters below.
Nothing is ordinary here. So I didn’t write anything ordinary.
Real change rarely comes quickly as we would like – it’s one of the tough lessons of environmental campaigning. But when it eventually does arrive, it can be very, very sweet, like the satisfaction of saving an immense forest in the far north of Europe.
In February 2005, I was in the back of a car in Lapland, Finland, watching an apparently lifeless, monochrome expanse of skinny dark trees and dazzling white snow blur by. “What”, I wondered, “are we doing here, trying to save these young, tiny little trees?” I was part of an international team of Greenpeace activists from all over Europe and beyond who had arrived in Lapland to set up the Forest Rescue Station, a kind of base camp that would put us in a position to help the local Saami reindeer herders protect the forest. If the Finnish government was to have its way, many of these trees were destined to end up as paper pulp for books and magazines across Europe.
It’s one o’clock on a windless morning. I’m walking on Humboldt Glacier in the high Arctic of northwest Greenland, my ears filled with the clumping of my own boots on the ice. The sky above is bright blue, and the sun is low, flirting with the horizon. It will be another few weeks before it sets.
Written and narrated by Dave Walsh and camerawork by Stephen Nugent, July 2009.
“The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise has reached the Petermann Glacier in northwest Greenland as part of a 3-month expedition examining the effects of climate change on the Arctic. The onboard team of scientists are coming up with unprecedented and worrying findings.”
The Chinese fisherman clears his throat and gives a nervous glance to his right. “When I’m fishing I will be busy – it will be easy to forget”.
We’re standing on the deck of one the shattered ‘zombie ships’, theLian Run 16, anchored 120km from the coast of Guinea. 38-year-old Jia, a lean, hardy man with sad eyes and a ready smile, is telling us how, five days ago, he said goodbye to his wife and 11-year old son, Xinyi. The next time he sees them, his son will be 13. It’s easier to forget, it seems, than torture oneself.
We’re in the big African Queen inflatable, cruising alongside an anchored trawler. It’s more rust than metal – the ship is rotting away. The foredeck is covered in broken machinery. The fish deck is littered with frayed cables, and the mast lies horizontally, hanging over the starboard side. A large rusty Chinese character hangs on railings above the bridge, facing forward. It reads ‘happiness’.