Saturday, 16 May 2020

Defiant dandelions

Defiant dandelions

ivy-leaved toadflax carries its own stories

But mark yon small green blade, your stones between,
The single spy
Of that uncounted host you have outcast;
For with their tiny pennons waving green
They shall storm your streets at last.

FL Lucas, Beleaguered Cities (1)

you never know who might be watching
Sometimes blog posts seem to expect you to live on the edge of wide, wild open spaces, or to have a garden that sprawls like a city park when a lot of us have a back yard perhaps, a scrap of lawn or a window and a view of next door’s curtains….

I posted this entry on the CelebrationEarth! blog last week but I felt wanted to add it here as well....A walk round the streets where I live shaped the entries and gave me the examples I used. These ideas belong in a Creeping Toad space as well as a CelebrationEarth! one!

To be outdoors is just that and if you live in a city or town, try giving yourself time to really look at the streets where you walk and look for the evidence of the wildlife that shares our cities and the histories that we often miss.

Some stories are well known, their characters often seen - or talked about: urban foxes,  returning peregrine celebrities (with attendant online webcam followings...), city park tawny owls, (no? just listen, they are more often there than we realise), everpresent rats. But there are more....

Look down: a weed is just a plant in a place where someone doesn’t want it….but plants can sneak in anywhere. So enjoy your weeds and maybe they’ll become heroes.They have determination and an ability to grow in the most unlikely places from gaps between bricks in chimney stacks to the smallest crumbs of dirt between paving slabs or cracks in old walls

Look it up: find, photograph and name if you can (ask on line, try talking to friends on social media, use a plant-app). Then find their stories: cities are warmer habitats than the surrounding lands and often harbour surprising escapes…..

Hogweed jungles in abandoned industrial estates in east London
Himalayan Balsam started popping seeds along urban canals. And spread.

Plants often carry surprising stories. Look for Sweet Cicely  (Myrrhis odorata) along roads, and tracks and canals and railway lines: a fragrant, aniseed-scented feather of green and froth of cream that arrived in this country with returning Crusaders – or might have been brought by the Romans, crush a leaf and sniff it …(2)

Look round the corner: keep walking, turn a corner; find a street you’ve never walked down, a snicket, a close*. Even small towns hold secret places: odd corners, tucked away alleys, hidden courtyards. No, don’t start marching up people’s drives and don’t put yourself in danger but do give yourself permission to be curious and to take the road not taken

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The Road Not Take, Robert Frost (1)

Look down: watch when tarmac changes to flagstones to cobbles. Start questioning: look for the oldest road surfaces in your area…what does it tell you. There is a claim (argued about, disputed and dismissed and endorsed all at the same time) that the cobbles in the lane behind the houses on the other side of my road are actually Roman. I don’t know if they are but I like standing there and seeing some legionaries marching past,  two small children and a rangy dog sloping off to the market….no, I haven’t been arrested yet

Look up: take in chimneys: their shapes, their height, their state of repair, their decorations of jackdaw nests.
Look up: take in gargoyles and carvings and gate posts.
Look up: take in saints on churches or the spaces where they once were, stained glass, family crests, insignia

Look out: for patterned grates in walls, for wrought iron gates, for the textured wood of an old doors

Look down and think of the words the bears who wait for you to step on the cracks might be saying…..

I want to say, stop. Take photos. Sketch pictures. Do wax and paper rubbings. You might be able to do all or any of those things but they all assume a certain level of safety and access to relevant places and resources. It’s up to you: stay safe and be respectful of other people’s homes and personal space!

But do bring this home, bring home memories and thoughts and ponderings, take time to research – street names, house names, that odd plant. Learn their stories. Enjoy the streets where you live. Remember your walks as memory maps

Treat yourself (if you haven't already), buy a nice notebook to keep a record of your discoveries in, some tasty pens, coloured pencils. Write, note, sketch, scribble, stick...enjoy. Try the Papersmiths online shop for some options....even better if some kind friend will buy you these as a Distancing Present...

O, and graveyards? In many urban areas, these are the most significant green space after city parks and maybe abandoned railway lines…we’ll come back to graveyards in another post soon

*I’m Scottish: a “close” -  a narrow passageway between two buildings. The closes in Ednburgh are famous long flights of narrow stairs up ad down the hills of the old town.

1. The Poetry Foundation has a wonderful archive of poems to explore.

2. There are many books and websites that will give you the stories that plants carry, but as a starting point try the book Flora Britannica by Richard Mabey, published by Sinclair-Stevenson, 1996 - reprinted in various formats since