The Wild Library: ecological learning

Hope in a handbasket

My PhD is picking up on threads left from my Honours research — the broad topic is sustainability education. These are two fairly ungraspable concepts, ‘sustainability’ and ‘education’ entangled in a strange orbit around each other.

In the context of people speaking about learning about sustainability, a phrase that stood out for me during my Honours research were the words: “…the world is going to hell in a handbasket..”.

In my thesis, I wrote a heading — Going to hell (or hope) in a handbasket?

I heard the aside within the brackets, in my head, when diligently analysing the qualitative data in my wobbly new identity as an emerging researcher. Those extra words, in brackets, were mine. It has been an unshakeable thought for me because I hear this phrase as said by someone else. I interjected with a counter spell of optimism, my voice, and it became their voice, to me. In effect, I feel like I edited the way they see the world. I don’t feel comfortable about that.

So, even before ‘Day 1’ of my PhD, I felt like this was the place I needed to go first — to see if I can find, a hope in hell.

Hell in a handbasket.

There is a lovely exploration of the origins of the phrase “hell in a handbasket” by David Wilton at, possibly dating this phrase back to the 1600s. In this etymology reddit thread about the origin of the phrase, others have also given some pointers to references of this phrase in folk tales and literature namely Grimms’ The Fitcher’s Bird and Dante’s Inferno.

So the first place I will begin (because my basket has some space to carry a few things), is unsurprisingly by accepting this tantalising invitation into story. I’ll curl up to read two tales about wizards and demons and see where that takes me. Roll initiative

An empty woven basket sits on the grass surrounded by autumn leaves.

Photo of basket by Annie Spratt on Unsplash