Nature/Wildlife Tag

Shelly scoops up the young robin, who concussed has dropped to the ground in a state of freeze. No avian parents to oversee the youngster’s wellbeing are around to sound the alarm. She uses gloves to avoid scenting the fledgling with human. The cat expresses interest. Shelly protects the robin from predators and the chilly breeze. Her care over several hours is rewarded with a happy ending. Movement returned, the robin takes off, visiting later to drink from the bird bath. Squiffy the squirrel is also a beneficiary of Shelly’s nurturing. Wildlife comes close in the garden. Pigeons, foxes, squirrels amongst other wildlife regularly entertain us. I watch blackfly on a Cardoon – the plant has grown as tall as me – being harvested by ants. Kohlrabi and chard seedlings struggle with my inconsistent parenting. I tell Sophy I am growing vegetables. “Use it as a practice in non-attachment,” she advises.

One of the essential elements for growth, nature needs water. Without moisture plants wither and the dry soil erodes. For weeks the pram has rattled across the hard ground. Now the rain falls at last to lick the cracks where shoes and balls have rubbed the grass bare. The undergrowth seems to breathe a sigh of relief as it gulps down large droplets of cool wet. “Grandfather used to call the rain ‘the erotic ritual between heaven and Earth’,” writes Malidoma Patrice Somé in ‘Of Water and the Spirit’. This sensual blessing of water on parched earth mirrors the tears, that may come when sorrow is tended, perhaps after a long drought. Sobonfu Somé lately, and Malidoma still, brings wisdom from the Dagara people of Burkina Faso to the west. I have learned how water helps me to connect to feelings, to allow suffering to be honoured, to remind me of the cycles of life and death. I feel the rain stroke my skin, and the flow of life moving through me.
See more about Malidoma Patrice Somé.

In the crucible of these times, things are changing. I have slowed down. My frantic to-do list has become an unattainable manifesto. I settle with ‘what is’, and try to accommodate it more graciously than before. Each day on the path to and from the marshes I see a moment in the life of this rose. It caught my eye, when at first only three heads were visible. The central one, darker rust, was squeezed by the blossoming peach faces of the other two. Then, I watched as the central face unfolded to take its place; until all three unfurled into glorious papaya coloured blooms in a garden full of roses. Each day the rose requested my attention, hoped to be documented. I forgot my camera. I raced to return home for lunch, a Zoom meeting, or to go to the loo. Yet each day on its arc from bud to hip, it became more beautiful. I counted the days past its prime, and yet in decline it gathered grace. Petals dropped to the ground. In its disintegration I remembered its opening, but found in its evolving form an elegant transformation.

Summer has come early. Sunshine has blazed through May. People in before times sat enclosed in air tight offices, the boxed in confines of schools, over-priced flats, houses and stuffy tube trains. Under lockdown they have been gradually coming out into green spaces. As I perform my daily pilgrimage with companions, dogs and pram, I witness the ebb and flow of training routines, an increased surge of bicycles and joggers, and now picnics. In spite of the political ‘hokey-cokey’ of lockdown regulations, rosy cheeks are blooming. Peonies display their fabulous array of petals, catching my eye. I drink it all in – the healthy motion, the lush hedgerows, the abundance of life, my delight in the colour pink.

In the midst of restrictions, here is beauty. Nature is unfurling full steam ahead, ripe with life. Blue sky and fat white blossom at its most open. Each day more petals fall like confetti. The cherry tree in South Millfields has no regard for pandemic regulations. Leaves are coming, blossom showers in celebration of spring. I walk the dogs, gulp in fresh air, blue sky, sunshine and trees. At night I pad across the carpet to the bathroom where moonlight illuminates the toilet. I feel my cells respond to larger forces. Sweat, then cool keeps me awake at 2am, in my new day by day existence. Walking the dogs, anchored by nature’s disregard for anxiety holds me steady. This is my spiritual practice. I delight in watching noses twitch in the breeze, feel grounded by capturing shit in small green plastic bags. This cherry tree is now a place of pilgrimage. I breathe it all in, stand less than two metres from its trunk.

The Corvid family are smart. The genus includes Carrion Crows, Hooded Crows, Rooks, Jackdaws, Magpies, Ravens, Jays and Choughs. People are surprised that the crows on Hackney Marshes know me…but it’s not hard. Every day they spot a curious caravan of humans with bright plumage, dogs and a pram. They call out and land nearby. All winter they come, a regular crowd, more when it’s cold. They arrive for elevenses with eager hops to see what I have brought them – peanuts, suet or scraps. Despite our familiarity, they remain camera shy (strange black object). I feel their indignation when anything disturbs their feed – bicycles that stray from the path, dogs that race out of nowhere. I feel annoyed on their behalf when raucous toddlers, that want to watch them flap, run into their circle. I stand while they swoop towards me, then they circle overhead. They wait for me to stand back, give the dogs a treat, before they approach. Beaks on sunflower seeds have the most delightful popping sound. I tried to record their voices this week, not very successfully. The RSPB have done a better job. Now that warmth has arrived, they will feast on insects and forage until autumn. I cried this morning as their numbers dwindled to nineteen plus, already missing crow chatter. They will ignore me over the summer, despite my enticing conversational openers. I shall listen to this recording to remind me of their intelligent company, and well mannered, generous society.

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.