After a month of rain and grey sky draped like a blanket over everything, mushrooms are popping up. Stems grow like teenagers’ legs in a growth spurt when you’re not looking; they appear as adults overnight. Firm fragile fungal flesh a paradox of sturdy enough to break through soil, yet soft enough to fracture on touch. Beneath the grass a hidden world of mycelium grows and spreads, fertile soil for nature’s opportunists. I lie to squint at delicate gills of warm neutral tones. I stop to peer under bushes, examine small canopies. I notice teeth marks at the edge of one fleshy mushroom and wonder who the nibbler was.

Angry Dan’s bright and cheerful rainbow mural has been defaced by someone who sees Ikea in the colours yellow and blue. I want to reclaim them for sky, sun and sand. It made me realise how much I cherished approaching the rainbow as I walked down the path. To me it says “Hello!” queer or otherwise, with a nod to the variable nature of the weather. This morning it made me consider the fundamental nature of my queer identity. People who don’t know me well often assume that I am heterosexual. I notice how my nature – invisible for many years despite being called ‘Queero’ at primary school – is glad to be seen. Angry Dan – artist and activist also uses painted rainbows and clouds in his ‘blue dot’ series to remind us of the finite resources on this small blue planet.

Jamie Wheal’s brilliant and erudite proposition is that in the post modern, industrialised west we are suffering a “collapse of meaning”. He identifies a necessary collective ‘griefgasm’ (Bilal’s term), to belch out our trauma. “Our ability to be of service is in direct proportion to our ability to digest our grief”. He articulates a very convincing synthesis of how to bring about change for the many not the few – “it needs to be all of us, or none of us”. He presents a diagram of the components of collective transformation. The crux is awakening through both ecstatic practice, through cathartic experience, yet connected and grounded in community. His shiny appearance, “super sexy, gee wizz” language is designed to get the attention of the well groomed smart casual movers and shakers in the audience. “How to blow your mind with household substances – respiration, embodiment, music, sexuality and substances…stacked together to bio-hack consciousness” is the programme. I share his passion to ignite courage, witness his eyes brim, and am already on board with most of what he espouses. He brings together strands to inspire “don’t curse the darkness, light a fire”(Watkinson). I would also love to hear his words weaving in circle with others – with women and people of colour. Here he stands with Yoms and June prefiguring my wish.
Recapture the Rapture: Rethinking God, Sex and Death in a World That’s Lost Its Mind. Talk by Jamie Wheel.

On the brow of the hill where the view is attention seeking is a simple bench. “In memory of Alan Holden 1924-2011…expertly monitored butterflies and helped create the nature reserve for all to enjoy,” reads the plaque. Eight years since his death, and here lie fresh flowers. The living rush about, send texts, busy themselves with infinite to do lists. This eight-years-gone man has time to remind us to sit awhile. I remember a holiday free from the tyranny of digital means. We sat on a bench on a hill to watch the passing of sunlight across a valley, and the movement of goats. We called it ‘goat tv’. I stop and remember at this place of remembrance that other view where we stopped and sat.

They see me with dogs, pram and often a man before I see them. “Arrrrhhh, arrrhhh, arrrhhh!” They fly down from high territorial perches – the pylon, oak tree or planes by the Old River Lea. The first wave announce my arrival with more calls, then hop from foot to foot excitedly on the ground. Two or three stand on top of the goal post in a row. Their heads bob down and up again with each call. I bring suet or seeds and sometimes a special treat like popcorn. They are especially fond of pasta. There are around 30 crows in my regular crowd, but when the whole ‘Marshes Murder’ come there are up to 120 birds. I welcome their smart beady-eyed corvid appearance. Feathers – some tatty, mottled, a little threadbare – swoop in, take sudden flight if I move too fast. I welcome these shape-shifting portents of death and change. I come most days and in the cold months they bless my offerings with their community and their calls of acknowledgement “Arrrhhh, arrrhhh, arrrhhh!”

I am sitting writing on a train full of solitary commuters. It is the rush hour, and we avoid making eye contact. Many people of these same gaze-avoiders will have digital selves who seek connections – for hook-ups, companionship, romance and marriage. Many of us seek intimacy and touch, yet it is only seen in glimpses in public places. We display our revealing selfies and write our explicit desires behind closed doors. I love the audacious al fresco canoodle of this long-ago-teenage couple. What does genuine affection and tenderness look like? How do we find the kind of attention we really want to receive?

Pavement shrines spring up on the streets outside the formality of churches to signify an unexpected death, an accident or a brutal ending. On this particular corner the end of the working week is announced with a gathering. A member of this club has died. His end is celebrated like any Friday with Wray and Nephew over-proof rum. A Jamaican flag, his name, a photo have been taped round the tree where they meet in honour – RIP it reads. Flowers and candles are placed here to remember him. A balloon is now slowly exhaling. Is this the Jamaican tradition of Nine Night happening here, on the street corner?

I often feel that my most radical act is simply being friendly. When I am in ‘flow’ I can feel like human lubricant – easing social encounters and rippling smiles into the neighbourhood. I enjoy the moments of recognition, chance encounters and random conversations with strangers. I want to live in a world where we greet passers by, where each “good morning” or “good afternoon” offers a well-wishing and an opening. These small acts of benediction glue communities together. With each nod of recognition, I feel as though I am woven – with my not-black clothes, plaits and dog in a pram – into the fabric of the Hackney streets I roam daily.

In these moist grey autumn days, it’s time to gather and store conkers to keep me going through the dark cold of winter. What are my resources, my harvest of nuts? Each morning begins with a skin brushing before peeling on thermals. A few minutes of extra moving, stretching or dancing before breakfast cranks up my sluggish circulation. I will walk, breathing in nature with dogs and crows. At the end of the day a salt-water foot soak and self-massage works with sofa hour. In the winter months of ‘Persephone time’ I will sew and make things. I will eat warm winter soups and ginger tea. I will allow time to read, to steep myself in the pile of unread books under the chair by the bookcase as the nights draw in. Regular trips to the sauna with my over 50’s discount card will be a luxury heat top-up. At the end of short days I will inch closer to a lover or snuggle up with a hot water bottle.

We returned to the beach of the Thames to mudlark for bones and shells. We scooped water close to the outlet of the River Fleet. We sat, sensing the slice of history resting in the sediment. Animal bones, and broken clay pipes nestle alongside drift wood and bottle tops. A cross section of time lies in the water. The intersection of culture and faith meets here too – the Globe, Tate Modern and St Paul’s. We trundled then with our loads back along Millbank re-walking the streets walked these last twelve days. Our pilgrimage ended back in Trafalgar Square where we landed to make an altar with our harvest for the closing ceremony. We the Grief Listeners brought a group intention of dropping into the land, of space holding, of pause and reflection. Through all the complexities, imperfections and words, we did our best to “remember our love for this beautiful planet that feeds, nourishes and sustains us.”*
*From Extinction Rebellion’s Solemn Intention Satement.