In the Alchemy of Symbols course I learnt that symbols manifest through repetition and we are called on to be mindful of them. It is only when I found a spectacularly beautiful, if dead, specimen that it clicked: locusts Рsymbol.

The locusts manifest globally. My newsfeed was full of them. Last year they disrupted the migration of birds across Africa. The birds, you see, had altered their customary route and timeframes to feast. It proved fatal for many because of the pesticides used to control the locusts.

The locusts manifest closer to home. There’s a plague in my courtyard. After we had returned from our holiday in Japan we created a rock garden with little stepping stones to create a pathway between the two doors. It’s lovely. But the grassy, mossy plants I envisage between the steps don’t grow: it’s too hot in summer when they get full sun, and too cold in winter when they get none. And the plants don’t get any water other than rain, which has been following a pattern of drought-then-flood. Finally I found these pretty little creepers that seem to take. They’re even on the foreground of Willem’s album cover.

At first all I noticed was that the leaves were getting smaller. Then, one day, I stepped into the courtyard and with a single step disrupted fifteen locusts, who all jumped away from me at once. Our five-year-old joined me in catching them, relocating them to the local park. The more we caught, the more we notice. Small, green ones and slightly larger brown ones. No wonder the plants suffer. I’m actually surprised that there are any leaves left at all.

As a symbol, the locusts represent unmitigated greed. They came to me during the first round of coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, when Mother Nature had sent us all to our rooms to think about what we had done.

What have we done?

The Global North (and, even though I live in the South, as a privileged person with all the luxuries of our age, I count myself too) have, because of greed, of needing a new cell phone, every year, of needing a car to ride even short distances, caused massive harm to the environment we are so dependent on.

What we need to do is to temper our greed. I don’t believe we need to go to the extremes of eliminating all our landfill waste, for example, or never buying new clothes. We don’t need a few people to go to perfect extremes. We need many people to take small steps. We don’t need to stop washing our clothes to save water, but we can use a cup to rinse our toothbrushes rather than letting the faucet run. And this is the challenge that the locusts pose: What small actions can I take to walk lighter on this earth?

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