Nature/Wildlife Tag

You burst into our lives like a cabaret artiste. Each spring you put on a show of florid pastel pink. You wave your petals provocatively at us, trouncing all the other plants and trees near by. With exhibitionist style you ruffle your frills like a can can dancer, revealing glimpses of muscular brown limbs. In twilight you blaze as though electricity, not chlorophyll pumps through your veins. Then we are compelled to watch as one by one you drop your petals. All modesty relinquished, we wait for your shame-free naked form to be revealed, just in time for a new costume of leaves to grow. I wait for this annual lap dance, for this invitation to be wordlessly near to you, for a brief chance to admire your display.

It’s a beautiful morning. The last residue of frost is lingering where sunlight hasn’t fallen. Bramble, rose and hawthorn are decorated with droplets of water. They hang like tears along each twig. The wider landscape is painted in layers – green grass tipped with dew, translucent opal of mist, umber of skeletal branches, then sky marbled in cerulean blue and light warm grey. This is the kind of winter day that makes my heart sing. We walk together, Tony, the dogs and me. Humans digest yesterday’s activities, unwrap last night’s dreams and make plans for the day to come. Dogs sniff and leave their marks. After weeks of poos camouflaged in dropped leaves, today they steam and are easy to find. This simple time is restorative. Crows call, swoop before us, hop and flap alongside. This is what supports me.

Now the leaves have laid the trees bare, the southern skyline pokes through. Sunrise is late enough that I catch the light spreading like honey over the towers of docklands. Walking later, the afternoon sun makes long shadows lean across the Downs. Parallel tracks are etched into the grass. Small dog with short legs stands on her long shadow limbs. Grass is enhanced with brighter green. A gold medallion appears at sunset to cast a spell on the grime of the metropolis. I scurry home to make turmeric latte. It is another yellow orb, this time held in a mug to comfort me in the early dark.

I am a walking invitation to chat in my eccentric pink fluffy hat and “doggy in the buggy” (as children observe). Dogs and prams are both permissive signals. While the destination-focused-commuters, purposefully-cycling-freelancers, and earphones-in-runners move at speed, parents and people with dogs move in eddies in a different current. Loretta stops cycling to talk to me, enjoying the vision of dogs and human as we leave crows loitering behind us. Her face stretches then folds into a deep smile. We share a borderless conversation animated by spreading arms, “I love nature”. She bumps her heart and all that could separate us brings us together, “we are one”. She tells me about meditating in this green expanse, of her older husband, dogs, foxes, yoga. She feels British “inside out”, forgets her native words, tells her un-believing Lithuanian sister that she dreams in English. This spontaneous connection unfolds my heart, stretches my mouth into a wide smile. “God is talking”, she says, pointing at the sun which touches her cheek in spontaneous blessing.

When I feed the crows, a magpie sometimes comes to grab a seed or two. This magpie has pluck to stealth dive the feeding ground of a murder of crows. Crow and magpie are different species, but share the genus corvidae. Perhaps this is why the crows turn a blind beady eye. Magpie is an opportunist.  I hear cackling as magpies throw their weight around in the garden pecking order. Bullying apart, I enjoy magpie’s brash attitude. I recognise the magpie in myself – eager for the shiny, gathering resources. I pluck my spiritual teachings from diverse traditions. I experiment with practices from different sources, use what works for me. My shrines are scattered with small things made, found, bought, given or inherited that inspire me. An image of Mother Meera sits under a Buddhist prayer box. The breasted woman made of shells I made as a child, gave to my mother then inherited back is there with a small stone from Mount Kailash. Feathers found, connect to significant shamanic creatures. A one-eyed ‘Incredible’ found on the beach celebrates the ‘seer’ in me, playful plastic fox is a reminder too. There is a stone gilded with ‘love’ and affirmations to feather my nest with positive intentions.

Today this maple tree is putting on a show, amid the brick, concrete and scaffolding. In the city, more people don’t say ‘hello’ than do; but while I stop to take a photograph, two of the tree’s neighbours stop to comment on their local spectacle. A man on a bicycle joins the conversation. Then someone else points their phone to take a picture. I am heartened that nature can cause a stir and still be a talking point. The leaves have turned a loud shade of vermillion. The edges of the leaves are stained plum. This autumn in London I am watching the changes in colour with the enthusiasm of a cherry blossom admirer in Tokyo.

In ‘Underland’ Robert Macfarlane documents a series of journeys deep underground. In the physical routes taken – often dangerous, breath taking – we accompany him down into caves, mines, catacombs, burial sites (for both humans and nuclear waste), forests and glaciers. Exploring humankind’s different calls to go down, “the same three tasks recur across cultures and epochs: to shelter what is precious, to yield what is valuable, and to dispose of what is harmful.” Beyond the actual journeys of geography, geology and history, he takes us into a beautifully written telling of what lies beneath. “The underland’s difficulty of access has long made it a means of symbolising what cannot openly be said or seen: loss, grief…physical pain.” “In the Celtic tradition ‘thin places’ are those sites where the borders between worlds or epochs feel at their most fragile.” Walking in liminal spaces alongside him, I feel this deep time connection. His encounter with pre-historic cave art in Lofoten, Norway made me tingle. “The cave is a slip-rift, an entrance to darkness where time shifts, pauses, folds.” “Force yourself to see more deeply,” he encourages. Most hopeful for me is his telling of the under storey of the ‘wood wide web’. Hearing how trees ‘en-kiss’ to share nutrients, “the fungal networks that lace woodland soil, joining individual trees into intercommunicating trees,” I cried. ‘Underland’ is a poetic map of the mystery of underground spaces.

A nature table was a regular if dull part of primary school. I remember a much more interesting one being a holiday project age eight while staying on a farm with my cousins. I have forgotten what we collected, but recall my excitement and muddy boots. Now I live in the city, yearn to be surrounded by nature. Instead I see moss growing in concrete cracks, trees struggling through pavements and brambles creeping out of the woods. We make a nature display to bring tiny microcosms of this wondrous natural world inside the house. Increasingly I see how disconnection from nature is at the root – or should I say, ‘rootlessness’ of everything. I believe this disconnection commonly cuts us off from our source of power and earthing.

In the 2021 census trial I fill in the questions about us, and the space we inhabit. I notice my irritation as my sense of identity – a complex and evolving spectrum of tendencies is reduced to ‘yes or no’, ‘this or that’ answers. I also hold in mind the fragments of the lives from my Victorian forebears in censuses that reveal fascinating family and societal changes. My great great grandfather Joseph Taylor was a ‘hatter’ in 1861 and by 1891 had become a ‘sanitary inspector’. The question about religion bothers me. Some of this household are Jedi. They regularly use the force to overcome the dark side. My faith is central to who I am, but it doesn’t easily fit a check box. I honour nature. I chant the Tara Mantra, offer thanks to my supportive guides and ancestors. I light Tibetan incense, venerate goddesses from several religions, as well as plastic figures. I connect with birds and animals, walk in nature as a spiritual practice. I am surrounded by sacred images to inspire and in the magnolia tree strings of fading prayer flags are blowing prayers into the wind. I ambivalently tick the ‘Buddhist’ box.

Here lies an unpicked harvest. Nature’s bounty falls to the ground for wasps, now drunk on fermented fruit. Even the birds have had their fill. City people too busy or unschooled in nature’s kitchen to plunder fruit trees, let it rot. Trees rely on mammals and birds to eat their fruit. The seeds are designed to be returned to the ground in a neat parcel of manure to assist propagation. My poo – it’s fertilising power untapped – flushes from sewer to pipe under the city until it reaches sewage treatment works then canal or river before it flows down to the sea. The majority of crab apple seeds will rot and be swept