Though She be but Little, She is Fierce

I’m a small person. In fact, I think I’ve always been a small person, but I only notice it when I’m around others, so I choose small friends and then forget. Someone once told me in grade school that in the kingdom of the short, hair is king. So, for many years, I wore my hair long and pompadoured, and thought of myself as under-cover small -it sounds much better than compact, condensed, or worse, ‘elfin’. I hate elfin…

Small is relative, of course -I was even smaller as a child, but you’re supposed to be, so I got away with it. But when does childhood end? When are you expected to wear big-boy pants? I’ve struggled with this for years, but it’s only since I retired that I’ve given it any serious thought. I’ve decided, with Ecclesiastes that to every thing there is a season, and more importantly, a time to every purpose under heaven. So, I’ve decided to come out at last. I’ve decided to yield to the ever-increasing urge to expose my counterfeit life and admit that I’m different. No more hiding in the closets of other similarly afflicted people. No more apologizing for not bumping my head on lintels, or not being able to see over fences. And I will no longer condescend to show people my need to crane my neck to see their faces, or pay obeisance to the lips of those born with longer genes than mine; I will simply gaze mid-shirt. I will proudly emerge from the closet, head held as high as I can get it, and come out, unabashedly, as short.

But this was not meant to be a jeremiad on size, nor a threnody for the tall. I cast no aspersions on those who are forced, through no fault of their own, to assume the added cost of extra material for longer pants and creepily-extended sleeves… or extra buttons, for that matter. Stuff happens. Now that I’m out, I will merely celebrate the difference.

And, like the prisoner who escapes from Plato’s cave, and unlike those he left chained inside watching shadows, I think I can finally see the purpose of the variegations in size –the teleology in Nature. Well, perhaps I was led by the hand from a rather small article in the BBC news –but only at first, you understand.  I did the rest all by myself.

Trees get all the credit, I discovered. Carbon warehouses, photosynthetic transmogrifiers of sunlight and water into oxygen, they are like the missionaries of old, and yet bent, instead, on saving the world from the heathen us. I’ve always loved trees –they’re sort of parental surrogates- but the thing about them is that they are big. They are inordinately tall. They are everything I am not… Oh, I forgot -I’ve come out… But anyway, what’s the main thing you see on first encountering a mountain? Grass? Shrubs? Flowers? Nope, trees. And according to the article, ‘A paper in the journal Atmospheric Environment says tall trees are good at absorbing pollution in more open areas.’ Of course, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

There is redemption, though –a kind of depuration, I suppose—in the words that follow. ‘But hedges can trap toxins at exhaust pipe level, so reduce people’s direct exposure to harmful pollutants. Lead author Prof Prashant Kumar said councils should try to plant low hedges between pedestrians and the street if pavements are wide enough.’ Yes! An acknowledgement that there is room for us all.

‘[…] any gardener in a major city who has trimmed a privet hedge, for instance, will attest that it is full of dust and pollutants that the tight-knit foliage has filtered from the air.’ Well, haven’t actually confirmed that, but it rings true. ‘The authors of the report are not anti-trees – far from it. They say trees help clean the air, and many more should be planted as people worldwide flood into cities. But they say the role of the hedge has been neglected, especially in city “canyons”.’

‘Dr Kumar, of Surrey University, told BBC News: “The big thing about hedges is that they are right down at tailpipe level.’ I take that as an endorsement of vertical diversity –a recognition and acceptance that it’s where some of us live. ‘”The emissions from vehicles starts to dilute very quickly as you move away from the road – so any hedge that acts as a barrier slowing down the airflow and catching pollutants on the leaves is going to offer people in homes better protection.”’

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but do you remember that book Small is Beautiful? Uhmm, I’m writing as someone actually able to read in 1973 when Schumacher first published it. Anyway, he was an economist who suggested that small things –small technologies- would often be better able to help the little people who couldn’t afford to think big. I don’t think he was referring to their height, or anything, but I hope he might have been intrigued with the concept of short hedges as a metaphor for the little guy who didn’t think he could possibly make a difference.

I was still a student at the time, so in a nascent era of large corporations and their flagrant disregard for everyone and everything –including non-renewable resources- the idea that we, the 99%, mattered was novel, although I’m not sure they’d worked out the percentages yet. The idea that we should even be given a chance to prosper, have a voice in the wider world –actually change things- was epiphanic. ‘Therein the patient must minister to himself,’ the Doctor said to Macbeth -suggesting that Lady Macbeth’s conscience –and our problems- cannot always be solved from without. Or, using another rather obscure quote, this time from Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost, that I remember from somewhere equally enigmatic, ‘Light, seeking light, doth light of light beguile.’ –in other words, the eye, in only seeking to find the truth in books or whatever, deprives itself of vision… You’ve got to find the value within yourself –no matter your height. Well, that’s what I think it means, anyway.

Okay, maybe I am reading a bit too much into the hitherto unsuspected utility of hedges –the importance of the unimportant. The small. The meek. And anyway, I’m given to understand we do get to inherit the earth eventually… Whoops, sorry -I meant they do…

You know, to be honest, I’m finding it’s really difficult to stay out after all those secret years -to forget the taunts, and clandestine winks, the mouth-honor, which the poor heart would fain deny yet dare not. Maybe I should just try back-combing my hair again in the closet…













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