Some little time ago I came across a brace of volumes belonging to the creepy children's series The Midnight Library. These chillers for the younger generation tell of all manner of supernatural happenings, and each scarifying tale finishes on a particularly eerie note with the protagonist coming to a sticky end.

The fate of Tim the apple thief in An Apple a Day (available in the three-story volume Voices by Shaun Hutson, writing under the pseudonym 'Nick Shadow'; Hodder, 2005) is quite typical. After making merry with a bullying farmer's apples, Tim joins the farmer's vast orchard in a rather permanent fashion when he is transformed into an apple tree, becoming the latest in a long line of trespassers who bit off more than they could chew.

The notion of animal life being reshaped into plant life may well fill us with unease. Yet, despite its fantastical nature, Tim's punishment raises an aspect of life which few of us consciously recognise.

As the writer and environmentalist George Monbiot writes:

"The atoms of which we are composed, which we have borrowed momentarily from the ecosphere, will be recycled until the universe collapses."

(Taken from 'A Life With No Purpose', posted August 16, 2005 at: http://www.monbiot.com)

The import of Monbiot's observation is clear. The world around us is one huge recycling system, powered by the sun. And we are no more exempt from this process than any other part of the ecosphere, organic and inorganic alike. Thus, we are, materially-speaking, borrowers and lenders in an

ongoing process of matter recycling. Of course, for the duration of a human lifetime the matter which constitutes an individual retains a biological pattern - or identity, if you prefer - which distinguishes one person from another. But, leaving aside questions of personal identity which, quite frankly, could fill a good many libraries, the empirical evidence still remains that we are constructed from material which has been used and re-used since the world began, whether by cosmic chance or the hand of God.

Perceiving our world in this context may adjust for the better how we treat our environment. If we could see how inextricably linked we are to all and everything around us, the traditional Western mindset of humanity 'set apart' may be turned on its head, thus promoting a stronger sense of 'fellowship' with the natural world. In certain Eastern cultures the notion of life presenting a never-ending circle of birth, death and rebirth has been commonplace for millennia. Hinduism and Buddhism, for example, each confess to the belief in physical reincarnation. Interestingly, this condition is perceived as a challenge,