Another way critics have of describing nature writing is to call it the literature of place – Barry Lopez
The sky is white as clay, with no sun – Phillip Larkin
The walk starts with a choice. Turn left, go down a pathway worn in the grass. The first time I went there felt like an adventure. This is not the mountains, it’s urban nature but the feelings are the same, different in size not quality. The tarmac goes straight but the grass, trees, path, are over there. Or turn right, with overhanging branches leading to an avenue of poplars, open fields, river.
There are benches at the water where I like to read. Further down, a concrete platform where in the first lockdown I took a camping chair, book, tea. There’s a French philosophical novel inseparable from that time and place. The chair gave me the last view of the sun and I saw a family of ducks then again two days later. I counted them; around ten. That same summer, two people paddled past in canoes coming to the end of a long journey. How far is the water park they said. A mile or two, although it could be more, depending on the curves.
There’s a walker here I noticed last year. Blonde, hat, fast moving, intent; I thought it was her lockdown exercise but saw her again and thought she did it anyway. A man on a bike, shirt off in summer, coat in winter, with a trailing brown and white dog. Here’s a green Brompton rider whom I once saw setting off down a road; I know where you’re going.
The swifts are in the reading place or up river if they feel like it. Up or down, what do you say; depending on flow mild or strong. I’m not sure where the Mersey starts but it passes here and finishes at Liverpool sixty miles away. Another person said it’s my wheels, for her beloved bike; she cycled to Lime Street along the river then took the train back. It’s never struck me but is that the best railway station name in Britain.
Past the swifts – a man thanks me for telling him what they are and saying they fly from Africa – and there’s the plum tree. I saw them with a wicker basket, going in deep, wondering about the reward. When they’d gone I found them. Blackberries are obvious and in some places abundant. Raspberries, not so many, but I know a few bushes. Apples, although the tree I found was ill and there weren’t any. I went back for plums and found three trees, not one; although perhaps it was a spread. Invisible among brambles and others unless you concentrate.
Ten minutes later and here’s the sandy place he asked me about, the beach, with a wide eyed child gazing at my knowledge. Ah yes, down there, ten minutes; keep going and you can’t miss it. He had no idea about the area but obvious lines become clear only with experience. When being lost is not fun but then eventually is. Here’s the heron. The same one, probably, I slowly approached and photographed in trees. Half asleep, and I wondered if it was ever full, perhaps at night but then the foxes.
Red tulips in one special place. Red my favourite, and I get close for a picture. Not wild but wild enough and I like the term garden escape. The field, opposite, deceptively pastoral with a motorway beyond. There was a cabbage field next to school and we had a field trip to a pond the other side. Creatures plants and jam jars, a single line down the same track. I walked with Dad who took one. Mum who cooked it; both now gone. I went back to that field expecting a vast place but it wasn’t. A few minutes walk then a muddy patch, behind a fence; a pond all that time ago.
Blackbird alarm in trees. I asked why do birds stop singing after summer. Discussed it again and we thought it’s because they’re tired after earlier efforts and there’s less food. Not so much of it so it’s a time for stillness not pushing out. There’s a robin who knows me. I go there, sometimes with seeds, me the friendly shape. I speak private words. He drops his head trying to understand, bright eyes in the silence. Now here’s the fritillary patch. I know a few but this is the best. I go here again, and again, like it’s a purple ocean.
Now a woodpecker. Which makes this sound lush and populated but you hear constant cars. It weaves into perpetual rush quietening only at Christmas, lockdown, or presumably very early morning but that’s not for me. Late hours are another matter and here’s the owl song. Twice, black seven fifteen, under grey afternoon skies.
I write like this is a magazine column. With research, references, and a lot of time. If you like it, perhaps you would support me.