December in the mountains is usually a month of shivering beneath cloudy, grey skies bearing the promise of snow with the natural world already having gone in to hibernation until spring: When spring decides to arrive as the seasons are increasingly topsy-turvy and never more so than right now.

The swallows, whose joyous skydiving and gleeful mid-air acrobatics are, as everyone knows, harbingers of spring. But, this year, they didn’t arrive at the end of March as is usual. They waited until mid-June instead and left, surprisingly early, in the last week of August only to reappear yesterday, by the hundred and wallows in December are a major surprise indeed. A worrying one too as their unprecedented appearance must, nature being far wiser than mankind, mean that something weird is going on.

It is no secret that mankind is killing the planet in a myriad different ways and that climate change is real and is happening, increasingly violently, on a global scale. And, while one major extreme weather event follows close on the heels of another with humans scurrying around like ants trying to deal with each escalating catastrophe, nature, in the form of living and growing things, is completely confused. The swallows being a prime example.

Other important examples include apple and plum blossom at the end of November. Important in that the same flower spurs are highly unlikely to flower again in spring, or when it is usually spring’ which, in turn, reduces next year’s cropping potential which, taken on its own, might not sound like very much but, to growers it means very much indeed and will raise the prices – yet again – for consumers too. And, as with all climate change related events, we, human beings, have only ourselves to blame. The vast majority are still set on keeping their eyes tightly closed against this reality and nowhere is this more obvious than right here in the mountains where the indigenous population exploit the environment to the ninth degree.

Not only are people hard at work cutting trees – mostly illegally and now with clearly audible chain saws – but they are also, as always during dry periods, setting entire mountainsides ablaze to satisfy their pyromaniac tendencies. And no one does a damn thing to stop them. The writer is totally fed up of asking these idiots to desist and to hearing their lying answers of – as they stand matches in hand – ‘It wasn’t me’ or ‘It is to improve grass for the grazing stock next year’ when they no longer keep animals as tending them involves that other ‘toxic’ subject: Work.

Smoke from burning forests and grasslands billows skywards for most of the day but the fires, often set in circular arrangements over huge areas, are more common during the hours of night when, presumably, the pyromaniacs consider it easy to escape if they have to which, to the best of my knowledge, has never happened.

The particulate in the air is thick and heavy and lethal on chests and in eyes and makes for good business for local doctors and pharmacists. This particulate is added to, tremendously, by the annual invasion of what is technically known as the ‘Asian Brown Cloud’ – a massive haze of industrial pollution hanging from Lahore right on up through Azad Kashmir to the Himalayas proper and beyond. It will, after causing the formation of ‘smog’ in the plains, hang around, containing goodness knows what poisons, until rains or snow bring it down to ground level to further pollute the already polluted earth sometime in the next few weeks or, if the annual seasonal wind direction changes its mind and shuffles it off to plague somewhere else but – does anyone care enough to act?

The answer is a resounding ‘No’!

No one, least of all the supposed ‘powers that be’ whoever or whatever ‘they’ are, are so caught up by rampant materialism, self indulgence and profiteering that to even think of caring about an environmental ‘tomorrow’ is quite beyond their comprehension. As is the indisputable fact that without an environmental tomorrow there will be nothing, absolutely nothing left for anyone – not even air to breathe.

There is no point in blaming ‘others’ when you, each and every one of us, contributes, in one way or another, to climate change and the atmospheric pollution that goes with it: Some make a conscious effort to reduce their ‘carbon footprints’ others couldn’t care less as long as they can maintain the unsustainable lifestyles they choose to live.

For mankind to survive the catastrophic changes the planet is going through – changes in the migratory patterns of swallows are a major indicator that something serious is going on – it is imperative that we act, all of us, and act right now. Change the way we live, change our mode of transport, our sorces of power, change the food we eat and, above all, relearn how to live in balance with the earth as it threatens to spin, tilt and, in time, tip us off!

The writer has authored two books titled The Gun Tree:  One Woman’s War, The Parwan Wind - Dust Motes and lives in Bhurban.

Email: zahrahnasir@hotmail.com